Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Interview Date: December 11, 2017
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Stewart Schley: Hi, there, and welcome to the Cable Center’s oral history series. I’m Stewart Schley. A particular pleasure for me today is to talk to a longtime colleague and cohort and partner in crime on the publishing side of the cable industry, Cathy Wilson. I’ll let the conversation tell her CV and resume for itself, but I think, suffice it to say, she has seen the trade publishing domain of the cable industry from its early gestation to a complete transformation in that direction.
Cathy Wilson, it’s great to be with you today. Thanks for joining us. I will note for our audience that December, 2017, you have recently—can I say retired or—
Schley: OK, so congratulations.
Wilson: Thank you.
Schley: And you’ve recently transferred one of your seminal publications to a new owner so, big chapter, big turning point. But let’s talk about your role in cable over time and let’s start at the very beginning. Because I was interested to see—I did not know this about you—on your resume that you had a Master’s degree in education, communications, and yet a couple of years later, you’re working in Denver, Colorado, for a guy named—
Wilson: Bob Titsch.
Schley: Who was who?
Wilson: He was the king of the publishing, of trade publishing, in cable. And it was just cable then. Yes, I moved to Denver, which happened to be the cable capital of the world. People didn’t realize all the MSOs were out here. And my husband got into DU Law School. So we came here. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So it’s a funny story how I got my job. I was working—in those days, we had video dating service and this guy that owned the dating service was like a psychologist up and up, brilliant guy, and he started this dating service, and he hired me. And he did a tradeout with Bob Titsch. He said, “If you can get me five people to join the dating service, I’ll buy five ads.” And he did, and the vice-president of sales happened to come from Cablevision magazine, and this is the truth, he said, “If you can sell flesh, you can sell anything. You’ve got to come work for us.” And that’s how I got my job.
Schley: Cablevision was one of many publications that Titsch owned, but it was the one that addressed the cable industry.
Wilson: The cable industry. It was the premiere magazine. It came out every other week. It was read by everyone—operators, engineers, everybody. He did have another publication named CED magazine, and that was more for the technologists, but really it was Cablevision that was—
Schley: Kind of an industry bible at the time.
Wilson: It was. It was. It was incredible.
Schley: What was your job?
Wilson: I started out—what they gave me, of course, I was the first woman they’ve ever hired, and here I was, 22 years old. I didn’t know how to sell, let alone advertising. And Paula Bean hired me, and they give me this pile of accounts, about this tall, and they called them the “doggie accounts.”
Schley: Oh, no.
Wilson: All the worst accounts that wouldn’t buy ads. So I’m looking through them and the first person I call is the Leo Burnett Ad Agency. I called up and I said, “Is Leo there?” And she says to me, “Honey, Leo’s been dead for twenty years.”
Schley: You did not do that.
Wilson: No, no. So the second call I made was to Alpha Technologies, to Fred Kaiser, who’s very famous. He bought my very first ad; a little teeny sixth of a page.
Schley: That was your entry point.
Wilson: That was my first. You got it.
Schley: Your turf—were they tech companies, programmers, was it anything…?
Wilson: Everybody. Showtime was my biggest account finally. And I sold on both sides, but at one point, I had to make the decision. Do I continue with Cablevision, or do I give all my efforts to CED magazine? Did I want to stay with the programming, the exciting part, the glamorous, or did I want to go over to the engineering side, the technical side, which wasn’t as glamorous. But I decided to go with the technical side. And I’m sure glad I did.
Schley: Why so? I’m just curious.
Wilson: Why? I knew it was going to advance. I liked all the people on the technical side, especially the engineers. They were all so down to earth, wonderful, nice. The programmers were great, too, but they were all in New York and they were glitzy. But the technical side was more where you could just make relationships with people.
Schley: Which ended up being the theme of your entire career.
Wilson: That is correct.
Schley: Let me take you back. This was when? Like early, late 70s, early 80s?
Wilson: Actually, I started in 1978, because Bob Titsch made me work in December and not pay me.
Schley: There you go.
Wilson: That’s a Bob Titsch thing to do. And in 1979, I started in January, and I think I worked maybe three years on Cablevision. Then I made the hop to CED. I sold both of them, I think, and then finally decided to concentrate on CED.
Schley: The reason I ask, Cathy, is that was a time when it was a go-go time for the cable industry. You were selling in a very fast-growing—did it feel like you were at the heart of something happening?
Wilson: It was exciting. I probably attended, I’d say, fifteen shows a year. The Western Show, oh, my gosh, what a show, with Dolly Parton and all the programmers putting on the most amazing parties and I felt like I was a movie star. I really did. It was unbelievable. And it kept growing and growing. It was out of control, it was just out of control.
Schley: You mentioned when you made the shift to the technical side, being attracted by the people, and the relationships were important. Talk about that a little bit.
Wilson: Relationships to me, in an industry, no matter what you do, I don’t care what you’re selling or what you’re doing, is the most important thing. And this is what I learned from Bob Titsch, is that you create a relationship. Because people like to buy from people they like. And so if things are about even, or whatever, they’ll always come to you because they like you. And I really did take a general interest in my clients and to learn from them. You have to really get to know them. I think today a lot of that is lost and it’s kind of sad. It really is. I think with social media that has kind of taken over, instead of the direct relationship. You know, writing notes, calling them every few weeks to see how they’re doing. How are their kids doing? What’s going on with them? How’s their product, how’s their company? And I developed a great relationship with most of them who still advertise with Broadband Library, the publication I founded. So that’s what I learned.
Schley: I think that if anybody’s looking for a life instruction, you are sort of the queen of the personal note. I mean, what does that do?
Wilson: I know everybody. So what I used to do is even if someone called and they’d say to me, “I need to hire someone. Who do you know?” And I networked, but I networked in a different way that’s networking now. I got on the phone, and I called, and I called other people, and helped them, either find people to work for them, or introduce them to someone they wanted to meet. All personal, all personal. That’s the most important thing. They never forget that. I know so many people, and I still know them today.
Schley: You do. Email is part of your bag of tricks, but when I think of you, I think of these neat little hand-scrawled notes.
Wilson: Of course.
Schley: So in the heyday, in the Cablevision/CED era, the industry’s growing, you’re sort of at the epicenter of a lot of this. Then that set of publications I think were sold. Is that what happened?
Wilson: There were other publications that came out. There was Multichannel News—
Schley: I wrote for Multichannel News…
Wilson: You worked for—and then there was, of course, then Cable World came. And then there started out with TVC, which was a direct competitor with CED, TVC.
Schley: A blast from the past.
Wilson: And then what happened was there were more magazines that came out. And then Bob Titsch decided, OK, he was going to sell his magazines. I think he sold them to Thomson first.
Schley: Sounds right.
Wilson: He sold them for a lot of money.
Schley: He sold CED and Cablevision magazines?
Wilson: Yes. And so, everyone was all nervous. “Do you still have your job? I mean, who’s taking over?” It was very uncomfortable because it was like you’ve been there forever and you knew Bob Titsch, you knew where you stood. He was a tough boss, but he really knew what was going on. And here’s Thomson, it was an international company, and they came in. And everyone was very nervous about it.
Schley: You have to prove yourself all over.
Wilson: Absolutely. You have to prove yourself all over again and you don’t know what’s going to happen. But it was fine because of the person they hired to take it over.
Schley: Well, I think one attraction of the asset were the relationships that people like you had.
Wilson: It’s interesting. When I went to work for Thomson– Nowadays if you’re going to handle accounts, you take a region. But they never did that. They based it on relationships. So I would handle people on the East Coast. I’d handle people on the West Coast. They would never break the relationship, ever.
Schley: And that was wise.
Wilson: That was very smart. You know, to come in and just say, “All right. Take this account away and you’re going to handle the East and whatever.” That’s really silly. You’ve developed the relationship and they’re going to buy from you. So Thomson came in and they were smart. They didn’t do it. So I continued to handle the same accounts.
Schley: It’s so interesting because you mentioned a mutual friend of ours, Paul Levine, who worked for the Titsch group, and there are other names that will crop up in this conversation. But it’s almost like anybody who worked in cable trade publishing can trace their lineage back to Bob Titsch.
Schley: He deserves some credit for that.
Wilson: He deserves the credit. I don’t agree with everything he did. He made me—this was kind of sad—I just had my first child and he said, “You have to come back now. You have no choice.” He gave me a nice bonus. He said, “You have to motivate the other salespeople.” I said, “I have to spend some time—” Nope! It was like three weeks and I was, boom, back on the job.
Schley: He was a hard-charging guy.
Wilson: He didn’t care. It was like, “You have to do this.” And so I did it. But everyone started with him. Paul Fitzpatrick became head of Crown Media.
Schley: That’s right.
Wilson: Crown Media. Hallmark. And oh, my gosh, so many different people that became very famous in the industry that started at Cablevision magazine.
Schley: A rival publisher of Titsch’s, Paul Maxwell, who I worked for at Multichannel News, said there was no better way to learn an industry than to work on the publishing side.
Wilson: That’s right.
Schley: And I wanted to get you on record as conveying—I think the model for the publications, regardless, was there were a lot of cable companies in the United States at that time. So to reach the marketplace, today you can make four or five phone calls. Am I right? That there were a lot of readers? The circulation side was—
Wilson: Circulation was crazy, it was all the MSOs and system operators. I mean, I asked about this. There were hundreds. Hundreds. Now today there are just a few. They’re all consolidated. So you had to reach all those different people.
Schley: An ad in CED or Cablevision was a very effective…
Wilson: Yes, and the programmers, that was the big thing. They used to advertise like crazy. Not anymore. They don’t have to.
Schley: That’s a really good point. It tells a story. Who became your boss once the Cablevision/CED titles were sold to Thomson?
Wilson: Bill McGorry, who I’ll never forget, he was just unbelievable. He was such a caring person, such a smart person, and I kind of took him under my wing. Because he needed to learn. He was new to the industry and I knew he’d do great because he was so nice. He’d talk to anybody. I mean, he was just the nicest man. But he had to learn, and he had to learn the different people and the different stories.
Schley: You sort of took him by the hand.
Wilson: I took him under my wing and I helped him. Today he tells me that if it wasn’t for me, he would never have made it this far. And he’s still working. Actually he’s doing the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.
Schley: That’s a segue, because I wanted to ask you, you referenced earlier the shows you used to go to,
Wilson: Oh, yes.
Schley: In this industry, I think people who weren’t part of it at that time, don’t understand how vital and essential these gatherings were.
Wilson: Oh, yes, because that’s when you saw your clients in person. I didn’t travel. First of all, I couldn’t travel; I had two small children at home. So I had to do everything on the phone, and do everything at these shows. You had to go meet your clients and as you would say, schmooze them. So these shows were very important.
Schley: You could work the room. You could be very efficient.
Wilson: Absolutely. You’ve got to work the room, and you have to say hi to everybody. And there was a gentleman named Jim Dixon who wrote a book on this.
Schley: Oh, is that right?
Wilson: And he said the most important thing was, when he stood at the door, seeing people come in and out, that’s when he would grab people.
Schley: It was trade show management.
Wilson: It was, it was. Trade shows were so important. There was the Texas Show. There was the Eastern Show. There was the Western Show. There was the NCTA Show. The SCTE Show.
Schley: There were the regional and even the state shows.
Wilson: All the state and regional. But it’s really down to, I think, basically the SCTE Show, cable tech guys…
Schley: Did you have a favorite from the day of all that trade shows?
Wilson: I did. I loved the Texas Show. But I loved the Western Show.
Schley: Me, too. Everybody loved the Western Show.
Wilson: I loved the Western Show, yes. It was the same time of year, over my birthday, and it was in Anaheim every single year.
Schley: It was a ritual.
Wilson: It was unbelievable. It was great. Loved it.
Schley: So your career blossomed under Thomson. You continued to sell exclusively for CED.
Wilson: I think at that time, yes. I think it was with CED. I think I helped with Cablevision, too, but mostly CED. And I never wanted to go into management. They always wanted me to be the publisher, but I didn’t want to. First of all, I had the kids at home, and my husband. And I wanted to be home at a certain time. I said, “Can I just be home—” I wanted to be home at three when they got home from school. In those days, moms didn’t work. Moms never worked.
Schley: It was different.
Wilson: Oh, my gosh. There was no after-school. There was nothing. This was the 80s.
Schley: Unless you’re going to latchkey your children.
Wilson: No. And I had to hire a nanny to help me. I was so dependent on the nanny. It was hard to travel. Moms didn’t work. They just didn’t. Today I feel a little bit bad that I wasn’t home all the time for them.
Schley: I think you did good.
Wilson: I think I did OK, too.
Schley: Was it challenging to be representing a magazine that was a technical engineering-oriented magazine in a male-dominated category?
Wilson: It was. But this was the interesting part. The technology was pretty easy then. I understood it. Today, no way. I mean, there is no way. And that is partly the reason I retired. It just got so—I couldn’t even camouflage that I didn’t know. But what I knew were the people. So if you know the people in a technology world, you don’t really need to know the technology. I’m not an engineer. But the people helped me, and that’s really what it was all about.
Schley: The complication is part that we stopped just being a video distribution industry and morphed into something that we don’t really have a word for yet.
Wilson: No. I don’t know what it is. It’s everything, you know.
Schley: Can you talk about—you made a seminal professional decision and career decision to start your own magazine. And I just would like to invite you to take me back and how did that germ of an idea begin to form?
Wilson: After Thomson, they sold the magazine to Fairchild. And then they sold it to Cap Cities/ABC. Then they sold it to Disney. And the whole time, I still was there, selling. I was their top salesperson. Finally, Disney did not like the idea, even though I had started their CableFile and started a bunch of products for them. I started “Man of the Year” for CED. We had to figure out something to get money in the beginning months, and I started that. I created all of their products. And the only thing I asked was that I could go home at 3:00. I came in at 7:00. And they said, “No.”
Schley: Corporate policy?
Wilson: “You have to be here.” So I talked to my husband, and he said, “It’s ridiculous. Just leave and start your own.”
Wilson: I go, “I can’t. I’ve been here eighteen years. I’ve been through all these—” He said, “You can do it. I’ll help you.”
Schley: This was around when?
Wilson: This was in 1996.
Schley: For people unfamiliar, can you give us a demo…?
Wilson: This is the first issue. And actually, Stewart—
Wilson: ’96. Fall, ’96. And Stewart helped. You were working at Lundwall…
Schley: Graphic designer…
Wilson: Graphic designer, and you helped create the first magazine. It was called The Literature Library of Broadband Technology.
Schley: I remember that cover.
Wilson: And I think I was the first one to use the word “broadband.” Even before AT&T. And it was supposed to just be a reference guide.
Schley: Meaning what? What was the vision?
Wilson: The vision was just to show all the different products because I knew the products and the companies. So that’s really what it was. Everyone was fighting over the SCTE. Who’d be their official magazine? CED—and then there was this wonderful magazine called Communications Technology started by Paul Levine. And it was awesome. I didn’t want to be official of anything. I just wanted to be able to send out this guide to the SCTE members and so I called up Bill Riker, who was the president of the SCTE, and I said, “I have a magazine I want to distribute as a member benefit. And I’ll take care of everything and I’ll report on some things you guys are doing, and I’ll get it out to all your members.” And he said, “Well, what do you want from us?” I said, “Nothing. I just would like to do this.” And he said, “Absolutely.” So he went to the board of directors and they said, “We’d love it.” And that’s how the magazine started.
Schley: I want to make sure I address this from a publishing standpoint. Circulation is really hard.
Wilson: Very hard.
Schley: What did that relationship help you accomplish?
Wilson: Well, if you didn’t have to do circulation you had it made. The SCTE sent this out for me.
Schley: To their entire membership…
Wilson: They’re the ones—to their entire membership. It was mail, it was print. So I could concentrate more on the selling and the creation and doing the things that make a magazine. The circulation is the worst. That’s the hardest part of a company. So it was beautiful. I didn’t have to do that.
Schley: And the schedule, the cycle of publishing was quarterly?
Wilson: It was quarterly. It started out in fall of 1996, then it started in March, then the summer issue was June, and then winter.
Schley: Do you remember who your first paying advertiser was ever?
Wilson: I think it was Alpha Technologies.
Schley: Ok, starting with an A.
Wilson: You got it. And then Alpha was the first ad I ever sold for Titsch, so you know, what comes around. And the reason is the relationship.
Schley: It carried through.
Wilson: Before I started, I went to five of my largest accounts. I went to Alpha. It was ARRIS, but it wasn’t ARRIS then. I think it was Anixter.
Schley: I think it was, too.
Wilson: And CommScope. I loved CommScope. And I think it was Trilithic, but it wasn’t Trilithic then. And I think those were the first. I said, “I’m going to start this thing.” And they go, “Fine. We’ll do it.” Whatever.
Schley: I always like to ask this of entrepreneurs. Did you have sleepless nights? Was it unnerving?
Wilson: No. First of all, I had no partners. All the other publications, what they did when they started, they got partners to invest. I didn’t do that. My husband gave me some money, I paid him back the very first year. We made, whatever he invested, I paid him back, well, kind of paid my family back. And just started selling. Everyone went in, everybody. It was amazing. They loved it.
Schley: It’s not that you lacked competitors, though. It was still a pretty pitched market.
Wilson: No. CED was not happy that I did this. And they tried to cause some problems. I won’t go into that story, but I received a letter from the Cap Cities attorneys apologizing.
Schley: You know you’ve hit the big time when you get the attorney letter.
Wilson: And they apologized and said that they’re very, very sorry and that shouldn’t have happened and that was that.
Schley: I think it’s interesting the progression of your magazine and the role that editorial content began to play, because like you say, it was a listings book for a while.
Schley: What made that transformation?
Wilson: In 1998 (this was so cool), I did win the Chairman’s Award from SCTE. They loved the magazine. They said it helped them. It told many of their stories—I would have the president of the SCTE, Bill Riker, at that time, write each quarter. I would have the marketing people write. So it was very SCTE-oriented. And that’s why I won the award. I was so excited. So things took off a little bit. But then in 1999, I had an idea to get guest authors. I started out with a couple from SCTE that were not as famous. And then I thought, if I could get John Malone, and John Malone has been and always will be my hero. If it wasn’t for John Malone, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, I do not think. I think he’s done that for a lot of people. So I went, and actually Tony Werner was working for John Malone…
Schley: John Malone, for the uninitiated, often thought of as the patriarch of the cable industry, ran what was the biggest company, TCI, for a long time. Google him. But he sort of made this industry happen.
Wilson: And he’s still in it. And he’s still making things happen. He’s unbelievable. So it was time to get the guest author.
Schley: Well, you aimed high.
Wilson: I aimed very high. And I called Tony Werner and he said, “All right. I’ll help you.” So he wasn’t really familiar with the magazine, and Tony called him and sent him a copy and said, “She just wants you to tell your story.” And he said, “Fine. I’ll do it.”
Schley: Tony, the CTO then of TCI, now the CTO of Comcast…
Wilson: Yes. But he was in different places as well.
Schley: But he convinced him to—
Wilson: He convinced him. And he helped him write it, of course. So this was the John Malone issue. It says, “Guest Author, John Malone.”
Schley: So no more introduction required.
Wilson: No. I think there was always someone who did a forward. And guess who did the forward?
Schley: Who did the forward?
Wilson: Tony Werner.
Schley: Of course he did.
Wilson: “The Doctor Will See You Now.”
Schley: That’s awesome.
Wilson: So he wrote and after that, it just took off. It was crazy.
Schley: Did people start to come to you to seek to be in the magazine as writers, or were you still kind of pursuing—?
Wilson: This is what happened. When you start with someone—even in advertising, you start with somebody and you say, “When John Malone was the guest author in this and he’s told the story and everyone loved it, do you want to do the same thing?” Then, “Oh, yeah, we’ll do that.” So that’s how it started. I don’t think people understand the creativeness that went into this magazine with the different sections, like the preface was written by the publisher, or the guest author. Everything had to do with the library.
Schley: And literature.
Schley: And writing.
Schley: So Malone was a hit.
Wilson: Oh, my God. Malone was a complete hit. Everyone loved it. “How did you get John Malone?!” And what I would say is, “I asked him. That’s it.”
Schley: I have a story about that later, but, OK. Sometimes you’ve got to ask.
Wilson: You’ve got to ask. The worst someone can say is, no.
Schley: One of the features you initiated along this path was always clever and fascinating to me. It was a contribution from the “Phantom.” Now you have an opportunity to tell us. OK, it’s not going to happen. But tell us about the Phantom.
Wilson: There were really two Phantoms. There was one Phantom that started with me early on, one of the Pioneers, but then towards the end, he started to get a little negative. I told the Phantom you can write whatever you want. And what the Phantom was, is somebody in the industry that would say anything they wanted to say. I mean, he had to be a little bit politically correct. But really, you could talk about anything you want.
Schley: The identity is obscured.
Wilson: Nobody knows who the Phantom is—nobody. Not even my kids. Nobody knew.
Wilson: So after it was like ten years, I said, “I think it’s time.” And this person retired and I hired somebody else. This person still has been there now for eleven years and he will be—and I was a little surprised—but he will be continuing on with the publication.
Schley: Because it’s changing hands.
Wilson: It’s changing hands; we’re so excited. It won’t be going to cable heaven. It will still be here, and the SCTE is so excited, they still have their member benefit, and I’ll still be around helping everybody. But I don’t have to do the day-to-day. I sold the magazine.
Schley: And congrats on that.
Wilson: Thank you.
Schley: On the turning of that page, pun fully intended. But what was the inspiration for the Phantom? How did the idea generate?
Wilson: I did see it in another magazine. It was a different industry.
Schley: Some of the best ideas.
Wilson: Yes, and I did. And I thought, “We could do that. It’s no big deal; it’s a totally different market.” And that’s how it started. And everyone: who’s the Phantom? Who’s the Phantom? We never would put his face in. We put kind of a background—in the beginning, we put like a shadow. Everyone thought either it was Jim Chiddix or somebody—
Schley: Oh, I’m sure you had all kinds of guesswork.
Wilson: I would never tell. Nobody would ever tell. And today that’s the one question I get: who’s the Phantom?
Schley: One way you distinguished your magazine—a couple of ways—was to maintain pretty high production values. You can talk about the paper and ink and all the quality issues. Also you had a disproportionate amount, I think, of editorial content. Why so? What drove you there?
Wilson: I was lucky since the magazine really…in the beginning, it was a wonderful woman that helped me named Elaine Callahan. She actually was my traffic person at Cablevision and CED, and she came along with me. And that was before you did all the design work. You would do galleys…
Schley: Oh, gosh. Of course.
Wilson: Remember? So there wasn’t any digital. So you really couldn’t change the design of it. It had to kind of be the same thing over and over again. Same with the Wall Street Journal and different publications. You never changed it. She was awesome. She used to type like 135 words a minute. She was a dear, a dear person. So then that was it. It was just really Elaine and I that did the magazine with of course, the authors, who, some of them I paid, some of them I didn’t. I didn’t have a lot of overhead. I had very little overhead. So why not take that money that you’re making and put it back into the magazine? Normally, Bob Titsch, when he did his magazines, would have a 70/30 ad to edit ratio. 70% ads, 30% edit. That’s the most you can even do to even mail it out. You can’t have more—
Schley: Postal regulations.
Wilson: You’ve got it. Per postal regulations. So when I came, I didn’t want that. I wanted to get the editorial out for the SCTE. I thought, we have to tell everyone what’s going on. I became more of a 60/40. And I’ve kept that. 60% edit, 40% ads.
Schley: Pretty rich ratio in terms of content.
Wilson: People don’t realize. Someone will say, “Why don’t you just put in an extra page in here, or whatever?” You can’t do that. You have to do forms when you’re printing. So if I had two pages of edit or an extra added page that I had to get in, and I couldn’t take an ad out, I’d go up an extra form.
Schley: Grow the book, as we would say.
Wilson: I would. I would put eight pages extra of editorial. And why? Because I thought it was necessary to do it.
Schley: You did make the transformation to digital publishing.
Schley: You did a layout at some point, as did everyone.
Wilson: Right, that’s right.
Schley: But you’ve adhered to these principles of consistency and then the theme carries through…
Wilson: Always had a theme through the guest authors. So I brought an issue that talked about ten years, and we did change the name, by the way…
Schley: I wanted to point that out. it had been The Literature Library of Broadband Technology.
Wilson: Broadband Technology, which was a mouthful.
Schley: A mouthful. Big URL…and then you changed it to?
Wilson: Broadband Library. And I think we did it in 2005. I’m almost positive. In fact, Tony Werner still worked for us as The Literature Library of Broadband Technology.
Schley: I’ve made that mistake a couple of times.
Wilson: Yes, everyone. But that’s OK.
Schley: Why the name change?
Wilson: It was because it wasn’t just a literature library anymore. It had become a real magazine, content. The storytelling, which was the most important thing. And telling people’s stories and using the people in the industry to tell the technology through their own personal stories. And when I asked a guest author to write, I’d say, “Pretend like you’re talking to one person instead of all the SCTE engineers. Make it personal. Tell us a little about yourself. I don’t want it to be boring. I want it to be really personal.” So when I started out, after John Malone, we got notables such as Leo Hindery, Jr., Bill Daniels (the late Bill Daniels), Jim Robbins—who was my favorite—and Jerry Kent. Robert Sachs, Ted Rogers, Dick Green, John Sie. They were all guest authors. Bill Bresnan.
Schley: A lot of these people are of course out in the Hall at the Cable Center.
Schley: Hall of Fame.
Wilson: Michael Wilner, Carl Vogel, Wayne Hall, Mike LaJoie.
Schley: One of the symmetries, I think, is that the oral history series does sort of—that’s why it’s so nice to have you here.
Wilson: Very similar. That’s why it’s so important.
Schley: I want to sneak this in. You mentioned John Malone. Your life is about people so I can’t ask you to make the list exhaustive. But can you think of a couple of other people who you think have been really influential in your career?
Wilson: Well, of course, Bob Titsch. Because if it wasn’t for Bob Titsch, I wouldn’t have learned how to develop the relationships that to me, is the core of my business. So I would say Bob Titsch. And like I said, I didn’t agree with everything he did, but he was an incredible teacher. I would say Bob Titsch was one, and Bill McGorry, of course. Tony Werner helped me every way. And the SCTE.
Schley: You’ve seen a couple of leadership changes at SCTE.
Wilson: Oh, yes.
Schley: What was the progression of people you worked with?
Wilson: Well, first I worked with Bill Riker, who was wonderful, who actually helped build the Cable Center. And I really enjoyed working with him. Then there were a couple others I’m not even going to mention because I do not think they had the same—what they did wasn’t as beneficial as Bill. And now Mark Dzuban, who I think is incredible, who is there now. And has grown the SCTE, and made it a society where now it’s respected. It’s just not certification and working with the techies. It’s become a driving force. And the reason it had to be is because the technology in the industry has become a driving force.
Schley: We talked earlier, Cathy, about, there used to be so many smaller independent cable companies that were part of the base, and now we have surges of consolidation in the industry. But there’s still an argument for advertising in a periodical that reaches the broad waterfront of the industry. Is that correct?
Wilson: It is. And lately, you’ve been hearing this everywhere, print’s dead, you shouldn’t have a print publication. But the people that read Broadband Library, at least now, are—of course, there are 28,000 SCTE members—I do not send it to 28,000…
Schley: I don’t think you could make those numbers work.
Wilson: Because mailing and postage have become very expensive. So we do an online version too. But really, everyone wants it in print. We only send to about I would say 7,000 in print, and these are the VIPs. Because there are a lot of vendors that belong to SCTE. SCTE and I formed a list by titles, and those people still receive it in the print, but then everyone else gets it online.
Schley: Free online access.
Wilson: Free online access.
Schley: I think in a day of declining print, you stand out more.
Wilson: Right. It’s almost like a luxury. It’s like a Mercedes. They don’t get anything anymore so when they get this—but the best combination is having a print and a digital together. That to me is the best. That’s the most successful. But the print, you’ll see it in people’s offices, you’ll see it when you walk into the operators’ office, and yes, there’s not as many operators, that’s true. But you know you go over anywhere like to Charter, to Comcast, it’ll be sitting in the reception areas.
Schley: It shows well.
Wilson: It’s beautiful. The paper is—I use really high quality. High quality is really what it is.
Schley: It’s so fresh. You’ve just transferred ownership to a very able publisher we’ve both worked with.
Wilson: Jerry Lundwall, who was involved with Cable World and has been working with me for the last four years with design.
Schley: It’s early in this transformation, but what are you going to miss …?
Wilson: I’ll miss talking to the clients. I will not miss the day-to-day where you had to call for the copy calls. I mean, Jerry and I did everything basically. You know, my daughter helped me for a little bit last year, but I had to do everything. The billing. The collection calls.
Schley: The grind and minutiae of running a business.
Wilson: The grind. And I’ll miss the authors. That’s who I loved to work with. I loved those guys. They were incredible, and picking— and I’ll miss the creativity of picking who’s the next guest author. What theme are we going to do? That was so much fun.
Schley: I have to thank and applaud you because you talked about, just ask, the worst that could happen is someone says no. And you’ve invited me to write about two seminal—Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, and Peter Schultz, who’s largely credited with one day on a Friday in a laboratory in New York, inventing fiber optic transmission for telecommunications. You just asked?
Wilson: Just asked. Actually, what I did was, I’d already exhausted everyone in the cable industry.
Schley: You’d gone through the list.
Wilson: I did. What am I going to do? I’ve got to get—I’ll get a relative, you know, people that are important to SCTE to write, but they’re not really guest authors, they’re not like headliners. So I looked at this list of inventors and I looked at the ones that are telecommunications—
Schley: Related to the field.
Wilson: Yes, something. And the first one I found was Peter Schultz, who really worked for Corning. I didn’t really know the people at Corning that well, but I called him up and I said, “Hi, I have a magazine.” I brought him up there and I showed him and then I mailed him a copy and he goes, “Yes, I’ll do it. I’d love to do it.” So he did it. And then after that, of course, then I went to Bob Metcalfe, who actually is one of my favorites. And I had to hunt him down. I did find him. It was kind of a little difficult. I talked to him, he goes, “You sound so cute! I’ll definitely do it.” And he did it, and he loved doing it. Then he tweeted it out to like 500,000 of his followers. It was like crazy.
Schley: Do you feel that people have this sort of built-in desire to tell their story? Is that part of what drives you?
Wilson: Yes, yes. Right. Why not? Tell your story, tell it the way you want to say. Especially with someone like John Malone, the press didn’t treat him well, some of the press. So my thing was, you tell your story in the way you want to tell it, OK? We’re not press. We’re not going to say anything—
Schley: Not “60 Minutes.”
Wilson: No. You tell your story the way you want people to remember you. That’s what I said to Bob Metcalfe. He goes, “I’ve never really done this before.”
Schley: The industry has changed so much since you began in this field. Is it still a fun place to work? You’re involved with the Cable Center, you continue to be a figure in the industry. But is the vibe the same, has it changed? What do you think?
Wilson: It’s changed. I liked the earlier years. As the technology evolved and the industry evolved and consolidated, of course changes are going to be. That’s part of business. We kind of all grew up. We were like an infant industry. We had so much fun. Everyone knew everybody. Things were done on handshakes. Relationships were the important thing. But the industry grew up and consolidation happened. And no, it’s not the same. I want to remember it more, so the earlier years.
Schley: You’re a mom. I see parallels there a little bit. It’s great to see your kids grow up and go out into the world. But there were some really special moments.
Wilson: Yes. And again, the same people were around, but then they changed. I mean, they retire. It’s just the circle of life, really. That’s why I will always remember the industry and the people because that’s who really made the industry.
Schley: Do you have words of advice if there’s a young person who’s beginning his or her career in cable, in cable, around cable? There still is a vibrant publishing category around this industry. What would you tell them if you’re sitting down and saying, here’s what I kind of learned?
Wilson: They need to learn the stories. They need to learn the story of how the industry started. They need to learn the stories of the people that made it that way. They need to learn the technology, which for me is very difficult—I’ll say that again. It’s so advanced that I think you need to be an engineer to understand all of it.
Schley: Even if you’re not an engineer.
Wilson: Even if you’re not an engineer, you have to study. You have to study the products. You have to study what goes on. Otherwise, you can’t compete. You just can’t. And no one will take you seriously. I’ve had a lot of help over the years, with the engineers helping me. But now, I mean, it was getting to a point where when I would create an issue, I’d have a tough time even finding a cartoon for an article, because I wasn’t sure if I was right or not.
Schley: You’ve begun cartoons…
Wilson: I love the cartoons, yes.
Schley: Will you stay involved and active in the industry or are we parting ways or how do you see the next few years?
Wilson: I will help SCTE a bit and the Cable Center a bit, but I want to take a little bit of a break and enjoy my husband of forty years, David, who’s been—no one realizes that a lot of the creativity came from him, too. It was a combination of both of us working together. The Star Wars issue, the Twilight Zone issue. You know, all the fun issues that we had with themes. But it was David. I would start out with something and then he would kind of capitalize on it and help me. So I want to spend some time with him. I want to spend some time with my grandbabies. I came to conventions, stomach out here—“Go away, we’ll buy anything you want, just don’t come into the booth, OK?” So I want to spend some time with them. But the one issue I just wanted to talk about, there was one issue, and that was the Katrina issue. That’s to me the proudest thing I’ve ever done in the whole industry.
Schley: I want to hear about that.
Wilson: And the reason I know about it is because that’s the next issue. So what happened was, Katrina hit. And my daughter was going to Tulane University. So I call her up on the phone and go, “You’ve got to get out of there! Katrina’s coming. I mean, this huge storm.” “What?” She was probably partying the night before.
Schley: Studying. I think she was studying.
Wilson: Studying, right. So they got up and they left, and then Katrina hit. And I heard things were horrible. So I wanted to tell that story. What did the cable systems do? I went to Jim Robbins and, if I can remember, was it Wayne Davis? And some of the five systems that were plagued by Katrina.
Schley: You mentioned Jim Robbins, former CEO of Cox Communications. And that was, I think, the predominant operator along the Gulf Coast there.
Wilson: He was. And I decided to do an issue, and donate every dollar—even before expenses. I lost a lot of money on the issue. I didn’t care. I gave all—I think we raised $80,000 from advertising. And we went to people like MTV. And to HBO, who wouldn’t be advertising in a technical publication. And they all went in. And they all put special ads in. Each one of these people would tell the story of what happened. All the money went to the employees of the different systems. It was the best thing I ever did. And that year, I won the Vanguard Award from NCTA.
Schley: You did and I was going to cap off with that…
Wilson: And Jim Robbins was in the hospital. He was sick. He was dying. And he called up the NCTA and he said, “This woman has to win this.”
Schley: Oh, my God.
Wilson: And that’s how I won the Vanguard Award.
Schley: How special. I think it’s interesting. You’re talking about you gave away the revenue, not the profit…
Wilson: No. I gave away the profit. I gave away every dime.
Schley: That’s what I mean.
Wilson: I made nothing, zero on this issue, and it felt good. I had been pretty successful by that time and I felt like they needed the money. It was something I could do.
Schley: And what were the stories like?
Wilson: I wanted them to talk about what happened before Katrina. And how they got ready for Katrina. Then Katrina hit, what happened. And then, how did they fix everything.
Schley: I was just reminded, a friend of yours, John Kurpinski, was talking about Puerto Rico, which has just been devastated. And you know, the essential role that a cable system plays in people’s lives, you’re reminded of that when it goes away.
Wilson: That’s right.
Schley: They did heroic work, obviously, in rebuilding those Katrina markets.
Wilson: And one person told me when I was going to talk a little bit about that in a later issue with Puerto Rico and all of those other storms that keep happening, is the one thing you can learn, though, is to build the system better. If you have the chance to build, all right, let’s get in there and build it better. So that’s the one silver lining on the catastrophes. So it has to be rebuilt. Let’s build it better, let’s build a better—
Schley: Listening to you talking about rebuilds as a cable veteran, you keep saying you don’t understand the technology, I think, secretly you have a pretty good handle on.
Wilson: A little bit. A little bit.
Schley: Any parting thoughts? I mean, had you not met Bob Titsch in 1979 or whenever that was, how would your life be different?
Wilson: Oh, my gosh. Well, I’d probably be a stay-at-home mom. I’d probably wouldn’t have gone out there and worked and worked and worked. But I loved it. So I would work constantly and I felt so good about myself at work. So that’s really why I—I had a passion for it. I loved it. I still have a passion for it, but there’s a time when you have to say, OK, you’ve spent forty years in this industry, almost forty. Now it’s time to do a little bit of a comeback to the family, which was so important.
Schley: I mean, from the Vanguard recognition you deserved and were accorded, to the multi-year imprint you’ve made on this industry, you have to feel a sense of satisfaction around that. Fair enough?
Wilson: I do. Absolutely. And the one thing is being a woman. I want to say that I was always treated fairly. I always was treated fairly. I never was discriminated against in my industry, ever. And I don’t think a lot of people can say that. But I have never, in all my forty years, I always got treated fairly.
Schley: You know, in the context of kind of a tumultuous time around those issues, that’s a really positive thing to say.
Wilson: I never, so I want to thank the industry for that. I really do.
Schley: Well, this has been tremendous. I was so excited to sit down and talk shop with you, so congratulations again on the culmination of an astounding career in cable publishing. Cathy Wilson. For the Cable Center’s oral history series, I’m Stewart Schley. See you later.
END OF INTERVIEW