Interview Date: Thursday February 25, 1988
Interview Location: DeLand, FL
Interviewer: Bob Allen
Collection: Penn State Collection
Note: Audio Only
ALLEN: Good morning. This is Thursday the 25th day of February, 1988 and I am Bob Allen in De Land, Florida talking with Edward P. Whitney as part of the oral history project for the National Cable Television Center and Museum. Ed, let me welcome you first of all to this project and express my appreciation.
WHITNEY: Well, I am delighted and honored to be here and I certainly hope that I can contribute to what Penn State is trying to do. I am an ardent supporter of the Museum, the Cable TV Center, and I think that there’s a lot of things that went on in this industry that should be told. I hope that we can develop those as we go along.
ALLEN: I’m sure we will be able to. Before we get into the participation that you had in the development of the industry, Ed, let’s go back to your early life. Where were you born?
WHITNEY: I was born in 1918 on May 24th in Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
ALLEN: Your parents?
WHITNEY: My dad was an Army officer in the Veterinary Corps. He was, well I can’t recall what he was doing in Philadelphia at the time but two weeks later we were on a train to San Antonio, Texas, and that’s why I claim to be a Texan although I wasn’t born in Texas. I grew up mostly in Texas in my younger years.
ALLEN: Your dad’s name?
WHITNEY: Clifford C. Whitney.
ALLEN: And he was a career Army officer?
WHITNEY: Career Army officer.
ALLEN: Rank of?
WHITNEY: Well, he retired as a full colonel in the Army and I was what they called an Army brat along with my two brothers and one sister.
ALLEN: How many children were there in the family?
WHITNEY: Four, three boys and one girl.
ALLEN: Where did you fit in there?
WHITNEY: I was numero uno. I was the first. Being an Army brat and being in the Army, we lived in many different places and I went to school in many different places.
ALLEN: Your mother, what was her maiden name?
WHITNEY: Lola Agnes Lewis. She worked for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. That is where they met. My dad was just out of veterinary school and they met, courted, and married in Washington.
ALLEN: You don’t know how they met other than just in Washington?
ALLEN: Did your father serve in the Army in World War I?
WHITNEY: Yes, he served in World War I. He was a first lieutenant in the Veterinary Corps with the Calvary. He stayed in the service after the war. He had a regular commission and his career started right after the war. He never went overseas in that war. They enlisted everyone that they could in those days. He probably decided that this was what he wanted to do, and he did it. He stayed in the Army and he got a regular commission. He was a regular Army officer. I can even tell you what his serial number was, 9722, which is a very low serial number in the Army. Mine was 0409526. There were a lot more people in the service in between us.
ALLEN: Where did he get his veterinarian training?
WHITNEY: George Washington University in Washington.
ALLEN: In Washington?
WHITNEY: In Washington. He was a graduate there. The Department of Veterinary Medicine, which was part of the regular Army, sent him to other schools and that was what I think he was doing in Philadelphia when I was born.
ALLEN: How about grandparents? Did you know any of your grandparents on either side of the family?
WHITNEY: Oh, yes. Our family came from Maine and Massachusetts. My grandfather worked in Washington, but he was from Fairfield, Maine. My father was born in Orange, Massachusetts. We are New Englanders, really. Prior to that we are of Flemish descent. I didn’t know that until recently. We did a genealogy study. I thought I was Welsh but, we are of Flemish descent.
ALLEN: And when did your family come to North America? How many generations back?
WHITNEY: It is hard to figure. Probably back in late 1600 or early 1700. I have got brothers. One of them is named Harrison. He is named after Harrison, Maine. I have a grandfather named Fairfield and that is up in Maine. We are from up in that part of the country.
ALLEN: What about grandparents on your mother’s side?
WHITNEY: That’s rather mysterious. Her name was Lola Agnes Lewis and one of the mysteries of our whole family is that we don’t know much about her background except that we do know that she was from the south somewhere. Georgia, or maybe Florida. We just don’t know.
ALLEN: So, you never knew your grandparents on the Lewis side of the family?
ALLEN: Did you see much of your father’s parents when you were growing up?
WHITNEY: When I was younger. When my grandfather and grandmother were alive, they used to come and visit us. And, when my dad was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, my grandmother came down, and after the death of my grandfather, established a residence nearby where we lived. Her maiden name was Mary Elizabeth Stone. I don’t recall when she died. I think she died about 1936 or ’37, somewhere along there.
ALLEN: So, it was after you were grown and left home?
WHITNEY: No, I was still in junior college in ’37, and we were stationed in Panama at that time. I must have been, what, 18 or 19 years old, going to college (lst year).
ALLEN: How long did you stay as a family in San Antonio?
WHITNEY: Well, as long as it took them to support me. I stayed with the family, but the family didn’t always stay in San Antonio. We jumped around all over the place, all the time.
ALLEN: How long was your father stationed there?
WHITNEY: Oh, he was in there and out of there a number of times. I have a sister that was born there, also a brother, in Fort Sam Houston. I had another brother that was born in Fort Reilly, Kansas, and I am born in Philadelphia so it’s an Army-type situation, every two years, three years, you get transferred. But, we were in and out of San Antonio. As a matter of fact, my mother and father are buried there.
ALLEN: So, that was kind of home, then, as you were growing up as much as anything was?
WHITNEY: Well, not necessarily. Home was where we were. We actually lived in Nebraska, in western Nebraska, when I was a kid. My father was stationed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, which is between Chadron and Alliance. Way out west, and cold. See most of the duration of assignment in the Army in those days was about two years, so we went from Fort Robinson, Nebraska to the Philippine Islands up in Fort Stotsenburg which was north of Manila about eighty miles.
ALLEN: When was this? How old were you then?
WHITNEY: I was in the seventh grade. I know that. And we were there for two years. I went to Lamar School, Fort Stotsenburg.
ALLEN: You indicated there are two brothers and one sister. And, you are the oldest of the group? What were the next steps down? Who was born next?
WHITNEY: My brother Clifford was born eleven months later than I was. We share a week of having the same age. He is a civil engineer, a graduate of Texas A & M (all of the boys went to Texas A & M). He built buildings and did things that civil engineers do. He semi‑retired in Dallas, and then moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and opened up a bed-and-board facility in an Antebellum home, and that is where he is today.
ALLEN: And the next one?
WHITNEY: My next brother is Harrison. He is an architect and a Texas A & M graduate. He lives in Los Angeles. He works for the Mobil Oil Company and did all their office design and everything that they do in big corporate headquarters. He is semi‑retired and doing consulting, lives in Hollywood and is doing very well.
ALLEN: How much younger is he than the next brother? It is eleven months, and then how much down to Harrison?
WHITNEY: Harrison was the youngest. I have a sister in between. I would be hard pressed to tell you the age differences, but we are all over age and grade! My sister is married to an electrical engineer and lives in Palo Alto, California in what they call the Silicon Valley. He is a successful electrical engineer and he has been there for numerous years. He owns a couple of buildings.
ALLEN: Private engineering practice, or…?
WHITNEY: Yes, private.
ALLEN: He was not connected with Stanford?
WHITNEY: No, he wasn’t connected at all. As a matter of fact, he graduated from Texas A & M also. We are all Aggies.
ALLEN: In growing up as Army brats, as you call them, were you pretty close as brothers and sisters because you were moving so much?
WHITNEY: Well, I guess we were as close as any brothers and sisters can get. We all lived in the same house. We all ate at the same table. Up until the time that we became adults, we were very close.
ALLEN: Do you still stay in close contact with them?
WHITNEY: Yes. We correspond and at Christmas send cards. You know you drift apart, but really we get together every several years. It is sort of a family reunion. But, we don’t have the same interests.
ALLEN: Your careers kind of spread you out a bit?
WHITNEY: We spread out geographically too. I live in Florida, two live in California, and one in Mississippi.
ALLEN: So as you were growing up you were moving quite regularly?
WHITNEY: As I told you earlier, the normal term of a transfer, particularly overseas in the Army was two years. But when my dad was transferred from the Philippines to Texas, we moved down to an old border town called Brackenville, Texas where the Army had an old cavalry post called Fort Clark. During the Army days, you could ask for an extension of your two-year term and they would normally grant it. Anyone dumb enough to stay there five years, they figured they got a live one. I was just entering high school, and my brother was just before entering high school, whatever grade that was, I think eighth grade. My dad decided that this might be the place for us to be still long enough for us to get educated, so we both attended high school in Brackenville, Texas.
I have to tell you something about that. This high school had a total of ninety students. We couldn’t even fill out a basketball team. It took me five years to get out because I failed algebra. I also failed Spanish. But, I did finally graduate in about 1935 or ’36. My dad then got transferred to Panama so I entered the Canal Zone Junior College in Balboa and went there for one year. That was in about 1937. Then, it was decided that I should probably go to Texas A & M. Incidentally I haven’t mentioned to you before, but somewhere in my dad’s background he was an assistant professor at Texas A & M in the Veterinary Department, so he always had a soft spot in his heart for Texas A & M. As a matter of fact, he was even one of the trainers for the football team in addition to his other duties. I entered Texas A & M in 1937 and diligently followed my educational course. It took me five years to get out of college too. I was taking architecture and it was a five-year course.
Now, if you go to a military college at the age that I went in, and if you have a war coming up–which we did–and you are in the ROTC, where I got my commission, and if you weren’t a very good architect, and the architecture course was five years…so I had a decision to make. I was going to be called to active duty before I got my degree and I wasn’t a very good architect at all. (I had a “C” average.) I had enough credit hours, etc., to get a four-year degree in Liberal Arts. Uncle Sam was breathing down on me because I had a commission, by then, in the military. So what am I going to do? I am not a very good architect, but I can accumulate my credit hours into Liberal Arts for a BA Degree, so I did. I abandoned architecture. It may have been that architecture abandoned me, I don’t know.
ALLEN: At least you were not suited.
WHITNEY: I wasn’t S T U P I D.
ALLEN: Before we move on to that time after you graduated from Texas A & M, I think it would be interesting to understand a little bit of what kind of a person you were, and maybe you could tell me about some of the mischief that you and your brothers got into while you were growing up. I am assuming that it was you, and your brothers and your sister probably tagged along a little bit too.
WHITNEY: Well, we got into all kinds of mischief. Living on an Army post is a lot different than living in a civilian neighborhood. You are very close to the families and you really would see them. In other words, when we went to Panama there were people on the boat that we knew as kids. When we came back, there were people on the boat that we knew when we were kids. It was a very close knit group of people. There were only about 135,000 in the whole United States Army in those days. That was before World War II. So, what mischief we got into, aside from the attempts at mischief, we won’t talk about.
I was the outdoor type. I ran a trap line down there in Brackenville and I used to catch possums, coons, and skunks, skin them, and sell their hides. There was a man that came around once a year and bought hides. It was a good way to make money. I also used to go fishing all the time. I used to hunt a lot, too. My brothers were not that interested in that aspect of life. They didn’t go for that, but I did. My mother was a tremendous fisherman. She just loved to fish.
ALLEN: Did you and your mother go fishing a lot?
WHITNEY: We went fishing quite a lot. My dad went along. See, when you’re a veterinarian and you are sitting out here in the wilds of west Texas, there are a lot of ranches and there aren’t any veterinarians. He was a post veterinarian and the ranchers needed a veterinarian. They didn’t have any. They would call upon him to moonlight. His only fee would be, “ok, I’ll come out and look at that old cow,” or “I’ll come out and look at those sheep, or do something with your horses, but you have to let me have picnic privileges and the run of your land, or bon voyage.” So that was the way it worked out. We got access to posted ranches and we could go anywhere. It made it very good from my standpoint because I loved all of that. My mother loved to fish. We used to go up to this little ranch out of Brackenville and picnic. She and I would go fishing. The rest of them sat around under the trees and ate.
ALLEN: What kind of fish were you catching?
WHITNEY: Bass, mostly. We used to catch quite a few.
ALLEN: How did you develop an interest in fishing? Did you go fishing when you were in the Philippines?
WHITNEY: No. I was too young then. I have been in the Philippines twice. I was in the Philippines when I was a kid, and I was in the Philippines when I was a grown up.
ALLEN: When you were in World War II?
WHITNEY: Yes. I didn’t do any fishing in the Philippines. I started when I was in Texas. They had some good rivers up there in the part that we lived in. Like I said, we would go picnicking and all of that stuff, and I would get my old rod and reel and fish.
ALLEN: Your interest in the out of doors has maintained itself. Do you still like to fish?
WHITNEY: I still like to fish. I just sold two boats. I am getting too old to put them in the water anymore. I decided to give it up. I have all of my rods and reels and everything. I will go fishing tomorrow if you want to go.
ALLEN: You would rather go fishing than do this?
WHITNEY: Much more.
ALLEN: So when you graduated from Texas in Brackettville, what were the kinds of extra curricular activities that you could do while in high school? You said the school was pretty small.
WHITNEY: There were only seven in my graduating class. I am very proud to announce to the uninformed that I graduated sixth in my class. There was a little Mexican girl there who couldn’t speak English too well so she was the only one that I beat. We didn’t have many activities. We played softball. We were out in the prairies.
ALLEN: Where is Brackettville in relation to anything else in Texas?
WHITNEY: Well, it is not too far from Spofford.
ALLEN: That helps.
WHITNEY: Ten miles from Spofford. It is thirty miles from Del Rio. Now Del Rio rings a bell with you. It is 110 miles west of San Antonio. It is right down there on the border. It ain’t near nothing.
ALLEN: How long did your father remain in the Army?
WHITNEY: He retired in 1946 or ’47 after the war. He was in the Army up until then–some twenty-eight years.
ALLEN: Your father was active all during World War II, then, as a veterinarian in the Army?
ALLEN: Were there still a lot of horse cavalry during World War II or was it pretty much coming to an end then?
WHITNEY: No. That is an interesting story. When I went to Texas A & M, I was in ROTC and I was in the cavalry, naturally. I had been raised in it. I might as well have stayed in it. The cavalry with the horses was becoming somewhat outdated. Tanks and armored cars were beginning to replace the horses. The cavalry wasn’t about to give up. They decided that they would figure out some way to keep their horses and keep patrolling the border and doing their reconnaissance and whatever else they did during the early days, the Indian days and all of that.
My senior year at Texas A & M we went on maneuvers. We went to El Paso, Texas. There were two other colleges that put ROTC people in what we called summer camp, which was sixty days in the desert. The cavalry was desperately trying to figure out some way to compete with tanks. They came up with an idea of “Porte” cavalry. That meant you took some big animal truck transports which would hold eight horses, saddles, and equipment and follow it with a truck with the squad (eight troopers) that rode the horses. We went raging up through New Mexico and West Texas on a maneuver using Porte cavalry. The horses, saddles, equipment, and hay went in the big transporter, which was nothing more than a cattle hauler truck.
This is interesting, from the standpoint of the history of cable, because of a fellow named Bill Daniels who was involved in this also, although I did not know him at that time. As a matter of fact, I have some stories to tell you about him later. He went to New Mexico Military Institute. We had Texas A & M ROTC, New Mexico Military Institute ROTC, and Oklahoma A & M ROTC on these maneuvers. We went up through Truth or Consequences, Santa Fe, and back around through Carlsbad Caverns and back down to El Paso during this maneuver.
ALLEN: And Bill was part of that same troop then?
WHITNEY: He wasn’t in my outfit. He was there and he was with the cavalry. As a matter of fact, he and another guy named Thompson, not any relation to any Thompsons in cable, was there. We were living out in the boondocks in El Paso, at Fort Bliss in some old tar paper shacks, purely desert conditions. We were pretty close to Mexico, and Bill and this other guy were there. They were kind of bad guys.
WHITNEY: Let’s put it that way. Aggressively adventurous. They used to come back from Juarez, New Mexico and they were so adventurous that they had to put them in a pup tent. They wouldn’t let them in the barracks anymore. That was the first time that I heard about Bill Daniels. It had been many years before I reacquainted myself with him.
ALLEN: He was good at what he was doing.
WHITNEY: He and Thompson. I don’t know whatever happened to Thompson. He has no relationship to Frank Thompson or Dick Thompson or anybody in the cable business. Daniels remembered too. I ran into him many years later. Well, anyway, what I was trying to tell you about was the porte cavalry.
The desperate attempt to keep the horses failed. We would haul those old horses all over the deserts out there and we would unload them from the trucks, saddle them, and ride on them and go scouting. We were the last guys to come in. All the other people fought their fake battles and they were sitting around in the camp resting and eating and we would come in. The first thing that we had to do was to take care of our animals. We had to groom them and feed them. This was done before we got any chow for ourselves. This thing didn’t sit too well. We didn’t mind driving around the trucks, but we sure didn’t like to come in late for chow. The Army gave up on the cavalry and said, “Forget it, let’s go to tanks.” I think we were the last horse maneuvers before they made that decision.
ALLEN: When you went back to Texas A & M, did you stay in the cavalry until you graduated?
WHITNEY: What they did was they took the cavalry men and put them in the armored forces.
ALLEN: In those days at Texas A & M, were all of the undergraduate students male?
WHITNEY: Oh, yes. There were only about five females in the whole place and they were officers’ daughters. There was quite a bit of competition for them.
ALLEN: How many students were at Texas A & M?
WHITNEY: There were about 8,500.
ALLEN: 8,500 to 5, not very good odds.
WHITNEY: Damn poor odds.
ALLEN: What did you do for social life?
WHITNEY: Well, there were other colleges throughout Texas. When we would throw a ball or corps dance, we would run girls in by bus loads from SMU, from Baylor, from Texas University, and from Texas Women’s University. We were in great demand. Great demand. We were an attractive bunch of guys. Why, I don’t know.
ALLEN: Well, you were all in uniform to begin with.
WHITNEY: Yes, that helped. Everybody that went to Texas A & M for the first two years was in ROTC. It was mandatory and you marched, almost like West Point. You marched to the mess hall, you paraded. If you were in the field artillery, you fooled around with guns. If you were in the cavalry, you rode horses. If you were in the infantry, you marched. If you elected to take the second two years of ROTC your junior and senior year, then at the end, you would receive a commission if you qualified. The first two years were mandatory. Everybody marched. Saluted. I was a private, corporal, sergeant, and a captain.
End of Tape 1, Side A
ALLEN: Your graduating class from Texas A & M, there were about 850 in the graduating class?
WHITNEY: That’s right. I think I said I probably rated myself about 830th in the class. But, I want to tell you something. Because of the fact that I had changed courses in college, I had a language requirement so I elected to take German in my senior year. Now there is no language in the world that approaches German in not being able to understand it. We had this German language professor whose name was Herr Bittger. I wasn’t doing very well in German. It was pretty hard for me to speak Spanish. I tried French for awhile and it was too much like Spanish. I got them confused so I went over to German.
Anyway, I wasn’t doing very well in German and I needed to graduate. I needed the grade points. I think it was three grade points for German. Herr Bittger was not about to let me get away that easy by giving me a passing grade. He decided that I should do a book report and he handed me a German novel that must have been two inches thick. He handed it to me just before graduation. I needed these three points or I wouldn’t graduate. Now this was all during the final ball and all the graduation celebrations and I am sitting there doing a book report on a book that I can’t even read. So I went to his office and faked the report to him. He knew I was faking. I really didn’t know what I was talking about. I could understand a few words in German, but I never could read it. And, here I had to read this whole book which was in German. He had put it on me right up to where I missed the final ball. My date couldn’t come because I couldn’t take time off. I had to turn this thing in. So I turned it in and he said “ok” so I got my “C” and enough grade points and I got out.
Now later on, while in the Air Force, we received a bunch of recruits and I am the commanding officer of this outfit. Guess who showed up? Herr Bittger. He was one of those Germans who wore his hair long. So, all I did to him was to say to him–he was a private and I was a captain–“Bittger go over and get your hair cut Army style.” The barber shaved his old head down pretty good, and that was the only revenge that I got. I thought it was worthwhile.
ALLEN: Well, after all he did give you that “C”.
WHITNEY: That was why I didn’t do anything worse to him.
ALLEN: Now, when you got out, did you take your commission right then?
WHITNEY: That is kind of a complicated story. When I got out, I had my commission. I was a second lieutenant in the cavalry. So I had to go down to Fort Sam Houston and take a final physical. Now this in 1941, early in June. So I went down to the board. They gave me a physical and I failed it. This broke my heart, really. I was destined to go to the First Armored Division. We already had orders. We got our orders before we graduated. I was supposed to go to Fort Knox, Kentucky in the First Armored Division. But in San Antonio, at my physical, they found spots on my lungs. They turned me down and now I am unemployed. They weren’t hard up for people then, but they certainly got hard up later.
ALLEN: Ok, you were saying that you got turned down by the military?
WHITNEY: Because I had spots on my lungs. They put me in the reserves so that broke my heart really. There were eleven of us in my graduating class that were supposed to be sent to the armored school in Fort Knox and they ended up in Kaserine Pass and everyone of them got wounded. None of them got killed. So I said to myself, if I would have gone there, I would have been the one to get killed, probably. But, anyway I didn’t go because they wouldn’t accept me. I turned around and was hanging around the house. My dad got a little upset with me because I was eating groceries and not doing any work, so he made arrangements with a friend of his and the next thing I know I am working for Pan American Airways. We lived in Brownsville, Texas at that time.
WHITNEY: Brownsville, Texas (Camp Bowie).
ALLEN: Where is Brownsville? In the east, west?
ALLEN: Central Texas, ok.
WHITNEY: So I went to Brownsville, Texas and went to work for Pan American Airways.
ALLEN: Doing what kind of work?
WHITNEY: Well, I was training to be an airport clerk. An airport clerk is one that does weather reports, meteorology, loads airplanes. He says good‑bye to people. This was in the days when we were flying DC-3s, so we didn’t have too many people to say good‑bye to. I was being trained to go down to Merida, Mexico.
ALLEN: To where?
WHITNEY: Merida. M‑E‑R‑I‑D‑A. It is on the Yucatan Peninsula.
ALLEN: Of Mexico?
WHITNEY: I was going to be an airport clerk down there. I had to learn how to make weather reports because we didn’t have any weather service in those days in that part of the country. We routinely made weather reports. We had to do the bit with the balloons and isobars and everything that you need to make a weather map. This was in 1941. Along comes the meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill on the USS AUGUSTA in Newfoundland. They did some things there that were very interesting–like transferring fifty destroyers to the British. The lend-lease. Part of that deal was that Churchill wanted Roosevelt to have an American company come over and build an airline across central Africa, not north Africa because Rommel was up there, but central Africa to bring supplies and troops to the British army near Cairo, Tobrook, and El Alamein.
ALLEN: This was a private company, not the military?
WHITNEY: Yes. Roosevelt came back to the states on the AUGUSTA and called on Juan Tripp who was President of Pan American Airways which, at that time, was our country’s number one international airline. He said, “Juan, start up an airline across central Africa. It will be on lend-lease. The British are supposed to pay us.” (They probably never did.)
They got very busy at Pan American headquarters in New York and they formed a group of people for the airline. Now this group consisted of people from everywhere, some airline trained and some not airline trained. They were offered good incentives for a fellow to go to Africa so I volunteered. I didn’t want to go to Merida. I heard that was a very, very bum place in those days. Today it is a big resort area. Then it was a stop over to nowhere. I was accepted, and the next thing I knew I was on an airplane from Austin, Texas to New York. I checked in at the Chrysler Building, PAA headquarters, and went through all the routine of getting my uniforms, shots, briefing, etc.
Around the first part of September, we set sail on the Acadia. There were about 190 of us on the boat. We went from New York to Trinidad, then to Beleni, Brazil and from there to Lagos, Nigeria, across the south Atlantic. After a short layover we sailed to Accra, Gold Coast which was PAA’s African headquarters. Then I was sent to Takarodi.
There were five of us there. We ran the little Pan American air base. We had about two planes a day. We had to off-load them and load them again. Then I got transferred from there to Accra Headquarters, spent a month or so there and was transferred from there to Khartoum, way over in what they used to call Anglo Egyptian Sudan. After a while there, I went up to Cairo.
We were flying into India and Persia, as it was called. At that time I was called a route briefing officer. We didn’t have very many navigational aids in those days. Mostly we depended on flying along pipelines along the Arabian area. We would fly along rivers. You could fly from Khartoum to Cairo without a single navigational aid because the Nile River ran up that way. It ran north not south. If you stick to the Nile, you find Cairo from Khartoum. But, getting across that desert was something else again, because there was nothing else out there.
We were flying nothing but DC-3s because that is what there were, transport planes and you would get on one and fly until it about got dark and then you would land and spend the night and get up the next morning and get on it again and away you would go. It was extremely difficult to get across the desert. You just flew ahead and hoped like heck that you would see an oasis or what it might be. We went to places like El Genina, El Fasher, and Maiduguri. If you take a look at the map of Africa, you would see that it is about like flying across the United States as far as distance is concerned. That is before you turn north and go another thousand miles from Khartoum. We were flying an awful long route.
My job primarily, until I got to Cairo, was being in charge of loading and unloading of airplanes. In Khartoum we had what they call a “hub” today. In other words we were going north and south, east and west and the planes would all come in that afternoon, and that night I had 485 natives working for me with one Greek who could speak Arabic. I could count to ten in Arabic, and that was about the best that I could do. So, we would unload, transfer loads, reload, and do everything all through the night. The pilots would get up in the morning and they would fly away whichever way they were going to go.
ALLEN: An early Federal Express?
WHITNEY: Oh, we were better than that. We were more efficient. You see with the lend‑lease deal that Roosevelt made with Churchill, we manifested every item we carried because they were supposed to pay us back. I don’t think we ever got the money back, but I would sit up there all night long while my people were out there loading airplanes and type up manifests.
ALLEN: But, you didn’t do any flying yourself?
WHITNEY: Well, I drove the airplanes sometimes. An eight-hour flight in a DC-3 gets kind of tiresome. They didn’t have automatic pilot on them. They’d say, “Hey, Ed, do you want to come up and steer awhile?” I suckered in for that several times, but I don’t mind telling you that the co‑pilot would bunk out on the bucket seats. The pilot would go to sleep on the left-hand side and I would be on the right-hand side. Now a DC-3 just has a windshield there, so the only way that I could steer the thing was to do it on instruments, so I got the old ball and pin thing going, and then I got the compass going, and I am sitting there flying instruments the whole way and that is very, very tiring. They wouldn’t let me loose once I got hooked into that seat cause they were all snoozing around. Once in a while one of them would wake up and say, “Where are we?” I would say, “Right here. We’re around 160 degrees. We are doing all right. And, I got it straight and level.”
ALLEN: Were there a lot of losses of aircraft in that ferrying operation?
WHITNEY: It wasn’t a ferrying operation. It was a cargo hauling operation. We didn’t lose–I don’t think we lost an aircraft. We really did good work. We lost a couple of airplanes, but it was the ferrying part of it. Pan American also made a deal with the British that they would ferry airplanes from the United States across to Brazil, and then across the south Atlantic. They were flying B-26 bombers over. They were flying B-25 bombers. They lost a few, but to my recollection, we wrecked a couple of DC-3s, but we didn’t have what you might call lost. We went out in the jungle and picked them up, fixed them, and flew them again.
ALLEN: Were they picking up cargo that had been brought over by ship to Africa and then flying it into Cairo?
WHITNEY: Yes. A lot of it. A lot of it came across on the Flying Clippers. They went from New York, to Miami, to Brazil, across the south Atlantic, and then went into Fisherman’s Lake, Nigeria, mainly. That was our flying boat terminal. As a matter of fact, when I flew back, I got on a Clipper at Fisherman’s Lake, in Liberia, and flew to Recife, Brazil in one non-stop, sixteen hour drudgery. The things only went about 140 miles an hour. Anyway, that was a great excitement in my life, I think.
ALLEN: You ended up in Cairo? Was that your last assignment for Pan American?
ALLEN: And what were you doing in Cairo?
WHITNEY: I was a routing officer. I am the guy that drew the little lines on the map that said, “Here is this pipeline. Now you have to follow it to go from here to here and here is your route heading.” I had to brief the crews every morning. I had not only the crews of our people, but the military had taken over by then. See, I was in Africa when the war was declared. So, they were sending bombers to Calcutta, and they were flying over the hump. All of those airplanes funneled through this south Atlantic route. They flew right along our routes. We tended to the people, we tended to their airplanes, and we did all the support operations. When they got up to me, where I was in Cairo, we were flying them up to Tehran, Calcutta, and Karachi, so I had to give them the maps and the colors of the day. The British were very severe about the identification of the airplanes and the people. They had flare guns and they would shoot them out the windows. If they didn’t give the color of the day, they got shot down.
ALLEN: How many people were involved with Pan American? How big of a staff did you have? You indicated earlier that you just had a reunion of the Pan American crews who were in Africa.
WHITNEY: Well, there were, according to the records that I have gotten from survivors, one thousand forty people hired to put this airline in operation. I mean that is flying it, fixing it, and everything that goes with. We had that airline flying within three months from the day that they got off the USS AUGUSTA at Newfoundland Bay. We had it flying in three months.
ALLEN: Did this include buildings and air strips?
WHITNEY: No, there were strips if you want to call them strips. The British, of course, had been flying down there for years, and they built some for Imperial Airways and British Airways. They had been flying down all the way to the southern part of Africa and all the way up to England. The routes were primitive, particularly with the aircraft that we were using, which were DC-3s. They were using flying boats, and they could land on the water. Well, you can’t land a DC-3 in the water.
ALLEN: Only once.
WHITNEY: Only once. If you can walk away from it, you’re doing good. So, what Pan American did was that they surveyed the company and said, “Hey, any of you guys want to volunteer for this?” Well, me I said, “Yep.” Hell, it was twice the amount of money that I was getting, and I wasn’t getting very much then either. It was room, board, and laundry. I didn’t have anything to do so it sounded better than Merida so I went.
They flew me into New York and they took us up into the Chrysler Building, where they had their headquarters at that time, and gave me a whole bunch of shots, many of which I had had before going overseas with my parents. But I got all of my shots and they put us on a boat, the Acadia.
The Acadia was a boat that was sort of a cruise boat that went between, I think, Boston and Newfoundland. They had the Acadia, the Evangeline, and another one. Three of them used to go up there. This is not a very big vessel so there were one hundred and ninety of us on this boat. As I told you before, we landed in Lagos, then we went up to Takoradi and Accra. Accra happened to be our headquarters. Well, the next boat was the Santa Paula. I used to see it go through the Panama Canal when I lived there. There were three or four of the Santas. Anyway, the Santa Paula had about two hundred ninety on it. It was followed by another little, old boat with about ninety people. It took us twenty‑nine days to cross the south Atlantic. We had to go all the way south. The Acadia was the first commercial American flag ship that was escorted by the United States Navy into belligerent waters. This was before we were involved in the war. We had the cruiser HOUSTON and two destroyers that escorted us for the last how many thousand miles that we went. We were shot at a couple of times, somebody told me, but I never saw it. I mean torpedoed.
ALLEN: You were just as happy you didn’t see it?
WHITNEY: Well, I didn’t want to see them. I didn’t even want to hear about them.
ALLEN: Now of those eleven hundred Pan Am employees, how many were able to attend the reunion this last year?
WHITNEY: You know, by an odd coincidence, the reunion is going on right this day in Napa Valley, California. I don’t know how many they are going to have there. We had the Banner Reunion, because there are a lot of retirees down here in Florida. We had about eighty principles; in other words the actual retirees, but we had wives and hangers on and the good things. At our banquet we had one hundred seventeen. The best we had before was about seventy, so I thought we put on a pretty good show in Orlando.
ALLEN: You said there were some interesting stories told about life in the African bush.
WHITNEY: God, there are so many of those stories.
ALLEN: Why don’t you share a couple of them with us?
WHITNEY: Well, shall I tell you the one about the fellow named Bob Sicard who ended up after the war as Chief of Maintenance at Continental Airlines in Denver? Bob was living in Accra. There were a lot of snakes and scorpions. You have got to figure that you are in the jungle, as a matter of fact, the mosquito capital of the world probably. I wasn’t even there three weeks when I caught malaria. They had black mambas and they had boa constrictors. You name a snake and they got it. Sicard was sleeping in the barracks that we finally got built down there, and we all slept under mosquito nets. There was no way in the world that you could not sleep without mosquito nets, or you would be eaten up. He had gone to sleep, evidently laid on his arm in some way, and deadened it.
ALLEN: Lost all feeling.
WHITNEY: He lost the feeling in the arm. He woke up in the middle of the night and started screaming. One of the other people came in and said, “What’s the matter, what’s the matter?” He said, “This snake, I throw it out and it keeps coming back.” He said, “It’s on me, and I throw it out and it comes back.” The guy said that what he was doing was that his arm went to sleep and he was throwing it out of the mosquito net and it kept coming back and he was screaming. That’s the feeling you get.
I remember one day in Accra we had this big native contingent, and they were mowing lawns around the runways and cleaning up the mess, when a black mamba appeared. Every native went clear off that airport, just took off. Black mambas are one of the worst snakes. Scorpions!!! They had scorpions down there that were so big that it would make a Texas scorpion look little.
ALLEN: Ok, I think we will take a break.
ALLEN: Ok, we have taken a break, changed locations, had lunch. We’re ready. We were talking a little bit about Africa and your contract with Pan Am had expired and you were moved back to the states. Is that right?
WHITNEY: Well, I wasn’t exactly moved back. I had to make a maneuver before I got back. Being a reserve officer in the Air Force, I was in Tehran when my contract expired, so I was out of my home base. All my belongings that I had over there were in Cairo, so I had to stop in Cairo and get them. I flew on a DC-3 across Africa to get to Accra where our headquarters were and there was the United States Air Force waiting for me. They wanted me to go to work for them. As a matter of fact, they had a handle on me of some sort. So I said, “Gee whiz, I have been over here thirteen months and I don’t like being in the desert and jungles, and I want to go home.” They said, “Well, we are going to keep you.” So I went in and they called me to active duty. They called me in, and the colonel that was there (by this time the air transport command had taken over our operation), so this colonel tells me that we are going to keep you over here. I said, “Well, never mind what I said.” I left the impression that I wasn’t particularly interested in any more activity in Africa.
It turned out this colonel who I had to report to–and who was a medical examiner–was a very good friend of my fathers, who used to be in the medical veterinary establishment of the old Army. He looked me over and said, “Hey, you don’t want to be over here anymore”? I said, “No, sir. I have been here. Let some of these new guys come in and do the work.” He said, “Well let me take a look at you.” So, he took a look at me and gave me a medical examination and found out that I had what they called a deviated septum, which meant that one side of my nose was stopped up. He said, “You better go back to the states and have that operated on. You better tell me that the minute that you get back to the states you will go into the hospital and have it done and then go over and turn yourself in for call to active duty,” which was what I did. I escaped being in Africa for another couple of years probably that way. It is no place to be in.
ALLEN: You indicated that when you graduated from Texas A & M that you had spots on your lung that kept you from going on active duty. Did you ever find out what that was? Apparently it disappeared by the time you had the second exam.
WHITNEY: Well, I am very nearly seventy years old and I went through the whole war, through the tropics, through the deserts and through everything else and I suspect very strongly that they didn’t hurt me any.
ALLEN: They may have been spots on the x‑ray plates more than spots on your lung. So, you came back to the states. Did you have your nose operated on?
ALLEN: And then you went to active duty?
WHITNEY: Well, no. They went in there and cut my one side of my nose up (the left side of my nose) and opened up the channel and stuck about fifty yards of bandage up in there, and when they pulled it out it was worse than the operation. They got me all straightened out and then I went on active duty. I existed and I didn’t get shot. I didn’t get any more malaria.
ALLEN: What kind of work were you doing? You were in the Air Force at that time?
ALLEN: That was the Army Air Corps, at that time, wasn’t it?
WHITNEY: Yes, the whole thing was the Army, except the Navy. Well, what I did was the same thing that I did at Pan American, loaded and unloaded airplanes. I ran the terminals, carried the mail, the same thing I did when I got in the airline business.
ALLEN: Where were you stationed in the Army?
WHITNEY: Well, let’s see, excluding Africa, which we have already discussed, I was assigned when I went into active duty in the Air Force in 1943, to the special mission outfit that ran the President’s airplane and all the congressmen’s airplanes, and the senator’s airplanes. We were stationed in Bolling Field, Washington. Then they moved that outfit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We did the same mission, but we kept the airplanes up there, for some strange reason. It was cold up there. Then they moved it to La Guardia Field in New York, and then I got transferred out of that outfit and I went into what they call the Fourth Operational Training Unit. I was sent to Homestead, Florida. What we were going to do was to teach a whole bunch of people to ferry pursuit airplanes and we were going to base them at Boriquen Field in Puerto Rico which is up on the other end of the island from San Juan. I sat down there in Homestead, Florida for a month.
I suffered greatly because I just happened to have my fishing pole with me, and I used to run down to Key Largo and fish at night. It was pretty tough duty, so they finally decided that they weren’t going to put the Fourth OTU in Boriquen Field over in Puerto Rico. I had a friend up in the Pentagon by then. By now I am in the Army a year or so. This captain was in personnel and he was a good friend of mine. I called him up on the telephone. I said, “Hey, they are going to send me overseas.” Well, basically that is what I told him. He said, “Well, we can’t have that.” I said, “I understand the Fourth OTU is going to go to Brownsville, Texas and that happens to be my old hometown.” He said, “Man, you’re transferred.” And I did get it and I spent sixteen months of the war in my old hometown.
ALLEN: And you were doing the same kind of thing there, in terms of managing the base?
WHITNEY: No, I didn’t manage the base. What I ended up doing was I was adjutant of the maintenance squadron.
End of Tape 1, Side B
ALLEN: Now you said you have spent what, sixteen or eighteen months in Brownsville, Texas during the war and then went where?
WHITNEY: Then they found me and sent me to the Pacific so I went out to the Western Pacific Wing of the Air Transport Command which had headquarters on Guam. I spent a bit of time on Guam and then we moved the headquarters, as we moved up towards Japan, we moved it over to Manila. I spent a number of months in Manila. Then I went back to Guam. By then I had achieved enough rank to become a staff member on the Western Pacific Wing staff. I was the Director of Priorities and Traffic, which means load and unload airplanes which is all I have done.
ALLEN: What were you then, a major at that point?
WHITNEY: No, I was a captain then. The job I filled was a colonel’s job so I had a staff car. The war was over and everyone was going home by now, in ’46. I didn’t have enough points to go home, and I didn’t have the rank. I got promoted to major before I left there. I had a staff car which was a perk.
ALLEN: Now your dad has been a career Army man. Did you consider staying in the military?
WHITNEY: I did.
ALLEN: And you decided not to?
WHITNEY: I didn’t decide not to. They decided not to. The point is that, after the war, the Air Corps decided that they were going to keep their pool of pilots and a ground-pounder like me. They used to call us “Arnold’s terrified civilians” which meant that we were in the loading, unloading airplane business which I had been in. They decided that we weren’t exactly as desirable as the good pilot pool, so they decided to keep the pilots. Now with that kind of competition, it was pretty tough for a ground-pounder or a terrified civilian, or whatever we were to stay in. I wanted to stay in the service, but I wasn’t too disappointed not to stay in there because there were greater opportunities out in the world and I decided to undertake them probably encouraged by the fact that I wasn’t hired by the government.
ALLEN: That is a great encouragement when you find you don’t have a job. You were discharged in, what, late ’46?
WHITNEY: I was discharged in late ’46 from active duty. I stayed in the active reserves through 1957. I got promoted to lieutenant colonel, then I moved to Washington, D.C. where I went with the National Cable Television Association. This bridges us onto the new people now. I found out that there weren’t any vacancies in the active reserve there because people like Goldwater, who was a Brigadier General, and any number of other Congressmen, etc., had filled all the slots. So in 1962 I was told to retire and I did.
ALLEN: You followed orders.
WHITNEY: They weren’t going to pay me.
ALLEN: So you came home in late 1946 and then went into the airline business.
WHITNEY: Oh yeah. Right after the war there was a proclivity… (Is that a good word?)
ALLEN: That’s an excellent word.
WHITNEY: …of new airlines that started. Well, the established airlines were like American Airlines, TWA, Eastern Airlines, etc. There were a lot of airlines formed right after the war called feeder airlines, one of which was called Pioneer Airlines, which was established by some war veterans in Houston, Texas. So I went to work with that airline, and I was given the exalted position of being regional sales manager in Amarillo, Texas. The airline only ran from Amarillo to Houston. They did it two ways. They went down through Fort Worth and Dallas into Houston and they went from Amarillo down through Lubbock, San Angelo, and Austin into Houston. It was a big-sized airline. We had a lot of country to cover.
ALLEN: How many airplanes were you flying at that point?
WHITNEY: Well, at least enough to do two a day in each direction. I don’t remember how many planes they were flying. They had some nice, cute hostesses. Anyway I was with them for a year, or year and a half and found out that Western Airlines wanted somebody to go to Casper, Wyoming. I don’t mind telling you that it was pretty difficult to find anybody that would want to go to Casper, Wyoming. That is pretty cold and windy up there. The Denver manager of Western Airlines flew down to Amarillo and interviewed me and I agreed, having never been to Wyoming, that I would take the job. So, therefore, I became an employee of Western Airlines.
ALLEN: Now Amarillo is not exactly a garden spot either if I remember right.
WHITNEY: Yes, but you ought to be in Casper. The pay was a little bit better so I could see that Pioneer wasn’t doing. You have Braniff with a non‑stop flight from Amarillo to Dallas. And, Pioneer took five stops to get there. Now, which airline are you going to ride on? I could see that a little commuter or local carrier wasn’t going to make the grade there. It didn’t. Eventually Continental Airlines bought them out only to get rid of them and take over the routes. So I went up to Western and I was made city sales manager in Casper, Wyoming. I had never been to Wyoming in my life. I don’t mind telling you that I loved it. I was there four years. I made many, many good friends and met my wife and we got married. I was promoted and moved from Casper to Denver as Regional Interline Agency Sales Manager for Western. I covered the whole territory from just about Minneapolis going back west all the way through the Dakotas and Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. I covered the southwest as Interline Manager, which was an endeavor in which we would try to promote other airlines to put passengers on our airline instead of, like, United or TWA or some of the big competitors. We were very successful. I used to fly up and down that route. You wouldn’t believe how many times I had a pile of passes that were taller than most people who got tickets.
ALLEN: Let’s go back to Casper for a minute. Why don’t you talk a little bit about how you met your wife and how she picked you out of the pack.
WHITNEY: In Casper they have what they call the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo. That is a big thing in those places as you well know. You are from South Dakota.
WHITNEY: You know what the rodeo is about and the fair. So I met Kaye when she was at a wedding across the street. There were three main hotels in Casper. Our office was in the Henning Hotel. Another hotel was the Gladstone Hotel, and the other hotel, I can’t even remember the name of that one now. It is torn down. That is where I was. She was in the process of being in a wedding, anyway. She came across the street with some of her girlfriends. I happened to be handy in the bar and we got to talking. The next thing you know we started going together; and the next thing you know we got married.
ALLEN: Was she living in Casper at that time?
WHITNEY: Oh, yeah. Her mother and father. She was living with her parents.
ALLEN: So she is a native Wyomian?
WHITNEY: Oh, yeah. She was born in Douglas, Wyoming, which is only about twenty miles away.
ALLEN: What was she doing at that time? Was she working?
WHITNEY: She was working at some oil company. Casper is one of the primary oil towns in the whole Rocky Mountain region.
ALLEN: Was this a smooth storybook romance, or were there a few bumps along the road?
WHITNEY: No, there weren’t any bumps. There were a couple other guys after her, but I whipped them.
ALLEN: Good. How did you go about doing that?
WHITNEY: Well, I was in constant attendance.
ALLEN: And so you were married when?
WHITNEY: In 1948. December 28th to be exact, 1948.
ALLEN: And you stayed in Casper for how much longer after that?
WHITNEY: Well, let’s see. We moved to Denver in 1951.
ALLEN: Was that her first time to be away from Wyoming?
WHITNEY: I really don’t know. I think so, but I don’t know. Being away from Douglas, Wyoming and going to Casper. That is a big deal.
ALLEN: So, over the years there were four children, I think.
ALLEN: Tell us about them.
WHITNEY: What can I say, they were kids. They are all boys.
ALLEN: All four boys?
WHITNEY: Yes. The first one was born pretty close after we got married. Let’s see the oldest one is about 40 right now, the next one is about 37 or 36, the next one is about–I don’t know, how old is he. I don’t know, we had two in Casper, one in Denver, and one in Virginia. The Virginia one is living here in De Land with me and he is 30. He is the youngest and the oldest is 40.
ALLEN: There were four of them over a period of ten year. What are they doing now?
WHITNEY: Well, my oldest one is in the painting business in California.
WHITNEY: Houses and industrial. My second one works for the government in Washington. He is with HUD, I believe it is. Anyway, my third one is in Maryland and he is in the cabinet business. He used to work for the Smithsonian Institution doing displays for them. He does department store displays and that type of thing. He is doing very well. And, my fourth one is working here in Volusia County in the vehicle maintenance department in Daytona Beach.
ALLEN: I suppose, just to keep the records straight, we should put a name on each of these boys.
WHITNEY: Ok, the first one is Eddie. Can you imagine why? The second ones name is Phillip. Can you imagine why his name is Phillip? My name is Edward Phillip Whitney. The third one is Harrison Oakley Whitney.
ALLEN: This goes back to some of your New England family.
WHITNEY: My brother’s name is Harrison and Oakley Smith used to be one of my best friends and he died of a heart attack. So we named him Harrison Oakley. The fourth one is named Zachary Stephen Whitney. No relation. We thought that sounded like a presidential name.
ALLEN: And what is he called?
ALLEN: Zak. Ok. Now was it when you were in Denver with Western that your paths crossed Bill Daniels again?
WHITNEY: No, it actually happened in Casper.
ALLEN: That’s an interesting story.
WHITNEY: It’s got to be interesting because it happened so strangely. As a matter of fact, it was the reason that I got into cable TV. When I was in charge of the office in Casper, and later when I got transferred to Denver, Bill Daniels was in the oil well supply insurance business, or the oil well equipment insurance business. He had an office in Casper which is three hundred miles north of Denver. He also had an office in Denver. Now Bill was riding the airline up and down there a couple times a week. He was a very demanding customer. He was so demanding that he got my attention. He had to get it. He was chewing me out every week because he couldn’t get a seat. We only had a limited capacity up there and there weren’t that many seats between Casper and Denver.
ALLEN: You were flying what, DC-3s?
ALLEN: Twenty‑one passengers.
WHITNEY: Twenty‑one. And Bill wanted one of those seats every day. Now there is no way that you are going to save him a seat every day. He only went every other or every three days. I became very well acquainted with him because he was such an obnoxious person. No, he wasn’t an obnoxious person, he was a demanding person, and it behooved me to pay attention to his demands because we needed the business for the airlines. I got to be a casual acquaintance, and then a pretty good acquaintance and friendly.
ALLEN: How did you handle him when he absolutely insisted on getting to Denver when you didn’t have a seat?
WHITNEY: I told him to stick it up his nose.
ALLEN: And this is the way you became good friends?
WHITNEY: Well, we were in such constant contact that I don’t know how we could have been otherwise.
So, Bill had this office there in Casper. Then I got transferred to Denver and he had an office in the Mile High Center there which was the biggest building in Denver at that time. That was in ’51 or ’52. The company assigned me to Bill. In other words you take care of this guy. He is just too much for us. But anyway, we became real buddies. We did a little drinking together here and there and I did bend over backwards to see to it that he got most of what he wanted–he didn’t get all of what he wanted–but he got most of what he wanted. He had a business that required him to do this commuting. We just didn’t have the capacity. So, I would even cheat a little bit and make a false reservation, just in case he wanted to come, so that I could turn it over to him. We became very well acquainted, let’s put it that way. Not deep friends, but very well acquainted. So this went on for a number of years.
ALLEN: While you were in Casper you took up fishing again. You hadn’t had much chance to do that during the war.
WHITNEY: No. Well, I didn’t get to do much fishing until I got to Casper, and then I used to go up into the mountains and fish for trout. I caught some trout up there you wouldn’t believe. They were rainbow trout that weighed about four pounds and were about twenty‑two inches long. I caught so many that I had a big deep freeze (one of the chest types) and they wouldn’t fit in there sideways. I had to put them in lengthwise. We ate trout like you wouldn’t believe.
ALLEN: And fishing has stayed with you ever since.
WHITNEY: Oh well, it was there before.
ALLEN: Just had a time out during the war.
WHITNEY: I fished a little bit. I went in Takoradi when I was over there in Africa. They had a harbor where the big ships came in and I never saw nothing but big barracudas thrashing the water chasing bait fish all over that place. Nothing would have it, so I had to get me a rod and reel. One of the pilots picked me up a reel in Khartoum. I found pieces of ironwood and I went over to the hanger and I tied copper (rolled up some copper guides) and latched them on to it and I tied that reel on there with a couple of hose clamps. I went out in that bay in the evenings when those things were jumping all over the place. They tore me up. I will tell you they are big, big barracuda. That was a lot of fun. I didn’t do much fishing during the war. I was too busy loading and unloading airplanes like I told you. Now, what do you want to talk about? Where were we? We were on Bill Daniels.
ALLEN: Yes, you were in Denver.
WHITNEY: Yes, Bill was a very vociferous customer. So he and I became closer and closer together and we would do a little visiting in certain establishments in Casper.
ALLEN: Social establishments?
WHITNEY: Yes. Anyway, we got to know each other pretty well. By now I am transferred to Denver, he has got an office in Denver and still has one in Casper and he’s still my problem because they assigned him to me and we don’t want to hear it from anybody else but you. So one day I am on active duty and I got recalled for two weeks in the Air Force. I am sitting in the officer’s club. This is after five and my wife called me. She knew where to call.
ALLEN: Where were you on active duty?
WHITNEY: Lowery Field in Denver. She said, “You got a call from Bill Daniels and he wants you to call him. He is in Washington.” I said, “Okay.” So I went home and I called and Bill said, “How would you like to have the job as the Executive Director of the National Cable TV Association?”
ALLEN: Let me just check. Was it cable TV or Community Antenna Association?
WHITNEY: It was National Community Antenna at that date.
WHITNEY: I said, “What does it pay?” A normal reaction. He said, “Well it pays …” (he told me a figure which was about twice what I was making). I said, “I am very interested.”
ALLEN: Did you know what it was? Did you know what community antenna television was?
WHITNEY: No. I didn’t even care. If it pays twice as much as what I was making, why should I worry what it is.
WHITNEY: It was in public relations. Trade association work. That was my bag anyway.
ALLEN: How had Bill gotten into cable television?
WHITNEY: He built the cable system in Casper, Wyoming in addition to his other offices, insurance business and everything else. This is a guy you ought to interview because he is knowledgeable. Bill built the cable system in Casper. See we couldn’t get any TV in Casper until they built a little local station. Then we only had one channel. The same thing was true in Denver. We only had one channel for a long, long time there. Bill built a microwave system that went three hundred miles from Denver to Casper and put in a cable TV system with one single channel. Then the local station came on and he began to add other channels. Anyway it was typical of the growth of the cable TV systems from nothing to something, you know what I mean.
ALLEN: When did he call you from Washington asking you if you wanted that job?
WHITNEY: Well, I took the job in ’57 and it had to be a month or so before that.
ALLEN: When did you start in ’57?
WHITNEY: In May. So I am now next May in my 31st year in cable TV.
ALLEN: So it was sometime in March or April of ’57 that he called you.
WHITNEY: Maybe not even that. I might have taken it right away. Well, I can tell you how I can date it. My last son was born in Virginia, ok. Now, I had to be in Virginia because I accepted the job before that. He was born in June. My wife got off the airplane pregnant on June 6 or 7th coming from Denver and went immediately to the hospital and had him. So now you see I have got a date. I came out earlier. See I had to put on a convention in Pittsburgh for the NCTA and I had no idea what a convention was, or how to do it, or anything. We had a lot of problems getting moved and all that because she was pregnant with Zachary. I drove out.
ALLEN: Drove from Denver to Washington?
WHITNEY: Yes. How were you going to get there? She flew. I had to drive. Somebody had to take the car. That is an interesting story. The main thing is that she arrived on what we called the Redeye Comet. United Airlines had a flight to Washington that left Denver about eleven o’clock at night and it got to Washington about six in the morning. When I used to go to Denver a lot, it was too early to go to bed before you caught it because it was eleven o’clock at night, too late to stay up for to get home. It was a DC-7, I remember. I forget the flight number but we called it the Redeye Comet. We would get on that doggone thing at eleven o’clock at night and then the next thing you know we were coming into Washington at six in the morning. She got on that thing, she got off of it. I took her to the place that we had rented and about ten o’clock that night over to the hospital.
ALLEN: How did it happen that Bill Daniels called you about that? What was his role with NCTA at that time?
WHITNEY: He was president of it.
WHITNEY: He was the second president, I believe. Marty Malarkey was the first. Bill called me and said, “Would you be interested in this job?” We went through that before.
ALLEN: Was there any more interviewing that took place?
WHITNEY: Now see you are beginning to open up a can of worms. There was some dissention on the part of the Board of Directors because of the fact that Bill dictated that I be hired and it was a fait accompli really because I was on my way there and we had a convention not long after I got to Washington. I am sitting in the Board of Directors meeting, which was about twenty‑four guys and I am listening to these people sort of chastising Bill for hiring me. I am sitting there and I said, “Gee whiz I am moved out here already. I am here and they haven’t even hired me.” Old Bill pervaded and they hired me, but there were a few nervous moments.
ALLEN: Who were some of the people who were on the board? I know you won’t remember all of them.
WHITNEY: Oh, I can remember darn near all of them. Marty Malarkey, Bill Daniels, George Barco, Sandford Randolph. The whole pioneer gang of the first 1966 Pioneer List was on that board, I believe. Clive Runnels, Al Malin, the guy that used to be the mayor of Keyser, West Virginia.
ALLEN: It is hard to remember names after all of these years.
WHITNEY: That was 1957.
ALLEN: Who did you succeed? Who had been the executive of NCTA before you came in?
WHITNEY: They didn’t really have an executive director. They had Strat Smith. He was acting executive director but he was general counsel to the association so he was actually running the association and doing the legal stuff.
ALLEN: Did he stay on then as general counsel?
WHITNEY: Oh yeah. For a hundred years. No he just got rid of the administrative details and dumped it on me. As a matter of fact, we had offices in his law firm office for a while.
ALLEN: Where was that?
WHITNEY: 1111 Eye Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 7th Floor.
ALLEN: Those were the first offices of NCTA, or at least when you were there.
WHITNEY: Oh, yes, when I was there. Then we moved down a floor lower into our own little cubby hole, and carried it from that point on. I was in charge of administration, publication of bulletin. I had to put on a couple of conventions a year. When I started, we had a bookkeeper that was part‑time by the name of Rosemary Kilduff and everybody will remember her. She kept the books. Then I had hired a secretary. I am passing by the secretary because I forgot her name for the moment. I will remember it. What we were doing was publishing a weekly membership bulletin. We had a little old multilith machine that belonged to Smith & Pepper whose offices we shared. It was practically a hand powered one but it ran by electricity once in a while. We put out as many as 800 copies of the bulletin a week.
I hired a girl named Daphne. She was my secretary. Then I had another girl. She was a Puerto Rican girl. Her husband was hired by John Spottswood who owned the cable TV system in Key West. He used to be the state senator and sheriff from Monroe County and all of that. I will have to think of those names for you later.
ALLEN: That’s ok. How many members did the association have when you first came there in 1957? You said you put out about 800 bulletins. Was that roughly one for every member?
WHITNEY: No. We gave a lot of free ones away because we wanted to tell the people how much trouble they were in so they would join. I think we had 489 members when I got there. I think I exaggerated when I said we put out 800 bulletins. Only when we were advertising we told everybody how much trouble they were in so they would join the association. We had about 480 some members.
ALLEN: Putting out a weekly bulletin for an industry is quite a task. How did you get the news together for that bulletin? You were doing the actual writing yourself weren’t you?
WHITNEY: Well Strat and I did. Strat did all of the scare tactics and I did all of the good stuff. Well, we got an input. We were a very closely integrated industry of independent operators. Now this guy is an independent operator. He is the only guy in town that has got cable TV. He is the only one that knows anything about it. This is long before the multiple operators got dominant in the industry. These guys were independent entrepreneurs. They sat out there and built these little systems. They wanted to know what was going on. The only way that they could find out–there was nobody else in town they could go to about it–was what we could generate for them. They were lonesome people sitting out there in South Dakota or Wyoming or Pennsylvania behind the hills, the only man in town. Who am I going to talk to? Salesmen came by once in awhile. That’s all. So we were a pretty important lifeline to them as far as generating what’s going on.
End of Tape 2, Side A
ALLEN: We are talking about the weekly newsletter that went out to the membership of the NCTA at the time when you became the first paid executive and you indicated that it was pretty much the lifeline. What were some of the kinds of news that went into that weekly publication?
WHITNEY: That becomes a hard problem to give you a good answer to because we were in the infancy of our industry and there were a lot of people that didn’t want us around, namely the broadcasters, the telephone companies, the power companies. We weren’t very popular kids on the block, but the people that really founded this industry were tough. They were entrepreneurs and they saw something that a lot of people didn’t see, primarily in something for the public. (GAP IN TAPE) We did our little thing on cable. We brought them television, they wanted it, and they bought it. So I think we provided a basic need or served a basic desire.
As far back as I can remember, we had nothing but adversity in this business. Everybody was against us except the public and they accepted us. So now you got a problem here and the adversity went all the way up to the federal government. Everybody didn’t like it. You know why, because it was competitive and it took us a long time to overcome that. We didn’t have much of a public relations posture that we could go out and advertise and say, “Hey, this is like motherhood man, you’ve got to have it or you should have it or you should support it.” No way. Most people didn’t know what it was. So what are you going to do?
What we did was that we, from a legal standpoint and from a public relations standpoint, we started tackling our enemies. We finally prevailed. It was a long pull. We had all kinds of competition. We had legislation. We went to the Supreme Court. They tacked an excise tax on cable TV service similar to what was being tacked on to utility services. Strat and lawyers and everybody took it clear to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said, “Look, you don’t owe it.” Almost my first duty was to refund $8 million to the members of our association.
ALLEN: That case had been decided before you became the executive.
WHITNEY: Just about the moment I came. I didn’t have anything to do with it, except I had to deal out the money.
ALLEN: Which was a pretty nice job.
WHITNEY: I mean, gee whiz, what an introduction. “Hey, I’m your new executive director and here is a thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars.” It gives you a good basis to jump off from. This industry is made up of some of the greatest entrepreneurs that you could ever imagine. Entrepreneurs, in my estimation, is not an advantage taker of anything. An entrepreneur is going to put his money where his mouth is. Right?
WHITNEY: Well, this is the whole category across the board. That’s the kind of people we are dealing with. You are sitting up in West Virginia behind a mountain and you haven’t got any TV, ok. Now some guy comes along and sticks an antenna up there. And he runs a little wire down there to your little town. Now you got TV. Now what are you going to call that guy? Smart.
To get back to my job. I am so enthusiastic about the industry that sometimes I wax eloquent, well maybe not eloquent but I wax. My job, as I saw it, was to run the association, publish their newsletter, put on a couple of conventions a year. We used to have two conventions. We were so poor in those days that we had what we called a “national convention” that was held in the east. Then we had what we called a “western regional convention” which was in the west because we figured the guys from California couldn’t afford to come to the east coast, and vice versa.
Now we did the same thing with the bulletin. We put the bulletin out, everything east of the Mississippi went regular mail. We mailed it every Friday. Everything west went airmail so they would all get it on Monday. In these days there is no way in the world you are going to do that. But that was what our thinking was. And we did, we published it, and woe be it to any member that came into our office on Friday afternoon. He was in there collating and running the mimeograph machine or whatever it was.
ALLEN: How many pages did the bulletin run on an average week?
WHITNEY: Oh, around four or five or six pages depending on how much Strat wanted to scare everybody. He was a prolific writer.
ALLEN: So a lot that was in the bulletin came from Strat?
WHITNEY: Yes, a lot of it at the beginning until I got my feet wet. Then a lot of it came from me because, one thing that I noticed about these people that run these businesses, is that they thought very little about advertising. Well, my background is advertising, public relations that area. I said there is a big lack here. These people, they think if they are going to have a year advertising campaign they’ll buy an ad in the yellow pages of the phone book and that’s their advertising budget for the year. Big deal. So what I did very soon after I got my feet on the ground was I started a campaign of direct mail advertising because, in those days, everybody mailed a bill like utility companies do–addressograph, multilith or whatever. So I said we ought to spread our goodies here. I retained an artist and we outlined some campaigns for direct mail pieces, big postcards. It all amounted to, for instance, this was back in the old days now which said, “Are you chained to one channel?” There were a lot of places that were. They could only get one. Then we put a little blurb in there about how good cable was and you could get “Gunsmoke”, and all that good stuff. We sold those postcards, and they were printed in Washington, and all the operator had to do was put his logo on there, take it to his printer, put a rubber stamp on it, and mail it. Conservatively, we sold a million of those cotton pickin’ mail pieces all over the country. Now that is a service that an association should do for you, if you are not doing it for your own self.
ALLEN: Now you said you had to put together a convention in Pittsburgh. When was that held? You started in May. When was the convention?
WHITNEY: Ok, the convention was in the first days of June and ended up on June the 6th, probably.
As I recollect.
ALLEN: How many days did it run?
ALLEN: And how many people would you get to attend the national convention which was really the Eastern Regional?
WHITNEY: I don’t remember how many were there, but we had about four hundred maybe. It would be like a Pennsylvania regional thing now (state association meeting).
ALLEN: What went on in the convention?
WHITNEY: Oh, we had all kinds of things. Strat Smith again talked about how much trouble we were in. We had people talking about technical things. Technical was very, very important in those days because we were in the very infancy of our technology. We had technical sessions. We had politicians talk to us. I don’t know what they talked about but in those days we didn’t have a great diversity of subjects to talk about.
ALLEN: Did the convention have exhibitors that paid money?
WHITNEY: Yes sir.
ALLEN: Who were some of the companies?
WHITNEY: Oh, the old timers. There was Jerrold, Amphenol, Entron, Westbury, SKL. We only had about twelve or thirteen exhibitors in one great big exhibit hall with about sixteen eight foot booths. Now you can’t even walk through the thing in a day.
ALLEN: How much did an exhibitor have to pay to exhibit?
WHITNEY: I think ten dollars a square foot. I can’t remember exactly but you had 80 square feet. So how much?
ALLEN: Ten dollars a square foot would be eight hundred dollars.
WHITNEY: It was cheaper than that. We didn’t want to stick anybody. It was probably about half of that. And when some exhibitors tried to sneak out of the confines of their booth, the other exhibitors would squawk about it because they were getting two more feet than they did. I used to have to settle those problems. Jerrold was the worst one. They always snuck out. See, I got in the manufacturing business after I got out of the association end of it. They pay a very good percentage of the cost of the convention for the exhibit space, or the privilege of exhibiting. One of the biggest problems we had all the way back to my inception of this is, “How much time do I get to show my goods compared to the time you are going to give these people for speeches and stuff? We don’t want speeches and stuff, we want people in here to buy.” Oh man, that had been a constant problem and I am quite sure it is today.
ALLEN: It still is.
WHITNEY: Yeah, I need all the time I get for the money I spend for it. I’ve been in manufacturing longer than I was in running the association. Despite my knowledge of the problem running the association and running the convention I was as big a belly acher as the rest of them.
ALLEN: Unfortunately, you hadn’t been a manufacturer before you ran the association.
WHITNEY: Well, I was the associate member. See we had a board of twenty‑three or twenty‑four people and then they decided that the manufacturers should have a break so, therefore, we will let them come and listen to our board meetings. They aren’t going to give them a vote, they were associate members. I was elected, after I left the association, three times as the associate member representative on the board of directors. I didn’t have any vote, but I could listen, and I could voice opinions. At least they gave us that break. Now they have got a voting member on the associate members. I think that it is only right.
Do you know the associate members in the business, the manufacturers, supported the industry? Do you realize that most of the people that got into this business were not that technically inclined? They didn’t have the capability. They were car dealers or whatever. You have got yourself somebody that is dependent on the manufacturer of the equipment to make it perform. So we had to spend so much money when I was in manufacturing simply supporting our product because the guy that bought it didn’t know how to run it, and we sold it too cheap. Absolutely too cheap. We were competing with each other and everybody was selling cheap, cheap, cheap. Inexpensive, let’s put it that way. I am simply telling you that we spoiled our customers to the point where they depended on us to keep the things that we sold them running for them. Now that’s ridiculous. You want to go out and buy a car on that basis? You want to be the car dealer?
ALLEN: Now you said you spent about four years with the association?
ALLEN: And Bill Daniels was president the first year?
WHITNEY: Yes. And then George Barco was second. He’s the guy with your endeavor up there.
WHITNEY: The third one was Lloyd Calhoun.
ALLEN: From where?
WHITNEY: New Mexico. The fourth one was Al Malin from New Hampshire.
ALLEN: So you worked under four different presidents.
ALLEN: What were some of the things that happened in the association in terms of just the growth and maturing of the association during those four years? Did the membership grow considerably?
WHITNEY: Well, I would be reluctant to say it didn’t. It grew considerably due to my efforts of course.
No, it grew because the industry was growing and we had more and more potential members and we got them in. There wasn’t any magic about it. Just a growing industry so I shall take no credit for that. Although, I did encourage them to get in.
ALLEN: How big was the membership when you left the association?
WHITNEY: Probably doubled when I went. It was over 800 and when I went there it was around 400 and some. So I can’t give you a certain sum. I don’t count the dues. We used to charge a nickel a customer a month for membership dues. We didn’t have a big budget, but we had some money.
ALLEN: What were some of the legal fights that were going on at that time? The excise tax had already been resolved. What else happened during those four years?
WHITNEY: I think this subject is going to be covered by Strat Smith because he was the one that conducted all this and all I could do probably would be to confuse the issue. I know the results of what happened and when they happened, but the nuances as far as the legal aspects or anything is concerned, I would rather not even talk about.
ALLEN: What I was just trying to do was to identify some of the important things that took place while you were in that office rather than getting into the details of them. It was a time of growth within the association.
WHITNEY: One of the biggest problems we had was legislative. It was a bill entered in the Senate called S.2653. You’ve heard of it, or if you haven’t you will. This bill would put the cable TV industry under the jurisdiction of the FCC. Ok. That is over simplification. But we didn’t like it, as an industry, for obvious reasons. The bill was instigated by the broadcasters. They didn’t like us–and still don’t like us–but who cares. The telephone companies don’t like us, who cares? The power companies don’t like us, who cares? We are in better shape than we have ever been in our life. We are deregulated, but we weren’t then. Now this bill goes before the Senate, S.2653, I’m new to the industry, I don’t know anything. I learned. We hired a former administrative assistant to a Congressman from West Virginia. His name was Harold Miller. He knew his way around Washington very well. He was our legislative consultant, not lobbyist. You understand that, don’t you?
WHITNEY: Well, Harold and I did a lot of work together, tromping up and down the halls in Washington. You would be surprised to know, maybe, that we had a headquarters where we hung our hats when we went up on the Hill in Lyndon Johnson’s office, who happened to be the Majority Leader of the Senate. This guy, Miller, knew his way around. He knew Walter Jenkins, Johnson’s AA. We had that bill under control like you wouldn’t believe. The problem was that Milt Shapp, who happened to become the governor of Pennsylvania later, and others didn’t agree that we had the bill under control. Johnson wasn’t going to pass that bill.
ALLEN: At that time Shapp was the president of Jerrold. And who else was with Shapp who was concerned?
WHITNEY: There were other ones.
ALLEN: But it was both manufacturers and operators who were concerned.
WHITNEY: Well, of course Jerrold operated the systems too, so they were concerned from both sides of it. They didn’t believe that we had the situation under control and they formed a schism within the industry. We thought we had it under control. We did have S.2653 under control and it did not pass. It was tabled. That was a very, very serious, stressful experience. See, Harold Miller knew his way around. I used to go with him and I learned a lot. When you go to the Majority Leader of the Senate in the Capitol Building, and you put your hat and coat and briefcase in his anteroom there, you have got to believe you have something going for you, right?
WHITNEY: So, Harold and I went over to the House side. We are trying to build (Senate may pass us, maybe). We go over to the House side because it is going to come up to the House. So we get with the chairman of the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives. He’s an old country boy. I wish I could remember his name. I walked in his office and there was a cable operator in Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City (tri‑cities) and he was from this man’s district.
ALLEN: So he was a representative from eastern Tennessee.
WHITNEY: Yes. He was head of the Rules Committee in the House. I sat right in his office and he said, “You know that bill that you have over in the Senate, I know why you’re here. The bill is over in the Senate.” He said, “My friend from Johnson City tells me that is not a good bill for you people.” I said, “That is true. It isn’t. It will give the Commission complete control over the cable.” We said we didn’t like it. He said he didn’t like it. He says, “I’ll tell you one thing, we have got a way of doing things in the House and Rules Committee. Now we are the ones that issue the things that come out. We call it ‘grist for the mill’.” He says, “The bills that come out, what we do is we don’t stack them like anybody else does, we put the new ones on the top. If they need four or five bills to worry about tomorrow, we will slip them off the bottom. I’ll guarantee you that your bill will never hit the bottom.” And he said, “Man, what more can you want?” So we tried to persuade the board and everybody else that it was under control, and let it go through the Senate, if it went through. We had it chilled deader than a door nail in the House. The reason that he liked this guy was that he adopted two Korean orphans from his district, and he thought that was the greatest thing. The guy told him that’s not a good bill for us. Fine. That’s all I need to do. See how simple it is? It isn’t simple, but it sounds simple.
ALLEN: Did you do much more lobbying in Congress on other pieces of legislation?
WHITNEY: Oh yes. There was another bill that was going to cripple us. Old Judd Smith, who was from Fairfax County in Virginia, was a congressman and he was Chairman of the Rules Committee. I used to live in Fairfax County but I moved over into Maryland. We went to a cocktail party which cost us $l00 a piece to raise funds for Judd Smith. Judd Smith had an AA, but he was a congressman from Alabama, and then he got elected out so he became an AA to Judd Smith. So Steve Hartwell, who was our director in the company, and I went to this cocktail party. We had paid a hundred bucks a piece and we were going to have three drinks.
ALLEN: Now, let me get something straight. Was this while you were at NCTA or after you left there?
WHITNEY: Well, after I left.
ALLEN: Ok, we wanted to get it into the right context.
WHITNEY: Oh yes, this was after I was president of Entron. So we go over there and Judd Smith is been gerrymandered (in other words it increases territory).
ALLEN: Change the constituents.
WHITNEY: What they did was he was running and a lot of people that were encompassed in the expansion of the territory didn’t know him. So, therefore, he was kind of hurting to get elected. When we went to this cocktail party, there was this bill there in the House. We had already spoken to his AA about it and he said, “You all come to the cocktail party and I’ll introduce you to the judge.” So we went to the Mayflower Hotel and Judge Smith comes over and acknowledges our presence and says that Beatty tells me that you got a bill there that you don’t like. We said, “Yes sir, we don’t like it.” He said, “Tell him to take care of it.”
ALLEN: What bill was this?
WHITNEY: I can’t remember the number of it. It was another one of those bills that was going to put us under the control of the FCC. It would go on the bottom and never make the top. That cost us two hundred dollars (one hundred dollars a piece). We had three drinks. Thirty‑three dollars a piece. We killed a bill for this whole industry that was worrying everybody.
ALLEN: Staying with the NCTA days, were there other things that came up in Congress or in the courts at that time that the membership was very concerned about?
WHITNEY: Well, everything that came up was of deep concern to the membership because everything that wiggled concerned the industry. We were in a rather tenuous position in those days. We had competition from what you call “boosters” which were devices that were put on top of mountains. They would pick up a signal from a TV station which wasn’t getting over the mountain and they would rebroadcast it out in the same frequency.
Then we had what we called translators which did about the same thing. They would pick up the signal off the back of the mountain, and then convert that signal to UHF, and then rebroadcast it.
ALLEN: And these were not owned by the cable operators, but by?
WHITNEY: Oh no. They were just people. Anybody could put one up. They did it. I think we lost a lot of face, if you want to talk Chinese, by being against free television and that’s what we were. These people had figured out a way to get some signals, whether it be by UHF or whether it be by VHF, they figured out a way to do it and we were against it. Now that is like being against Motherhood. I think we suffered for four or five years of real bad public relations by being against Motherhood.
ALLEN: What was the timeframe that this four or five years fell in?
WHITNEY: It was right after I went with the association. We were in the middle of it then. It’s ’57 to probably ’62 or ’63.
ALLEN: Were there elements within the association that contributed to this?
WHITNEY: Oh, every element within the association was anti-competition, man. But we didn’t make any good marks with the public by opposing free TV. We should have just shut our mouths and gone ahead and done what we did.
ALLEN: But at that time you supported the position because that was your job.
WHITNEY: Well I didn’t support it wholeheartedly but, I fought it. I thought it was a rather ridiculous sanction for us. You got a bunch of ranchers out in Montana, maybe eighty, ninety, or a hundred homes, forty miles apart.
You have got a system in Butte, Montana and there is a mountain between them and the valley where they live. Just for competitive reasons, I couldn’t quite grasp why we should keep those forty guys out there from getting TV. We were afraid somebody in Butte might get it. Not by our service. It just didn’t make sense to me, but I had to go along with the prevailing thinking which I still don’t think was right. I still think we did our public relations a terrible blow when we opposed free TV. I think it probably held us up for several years in the industry because we did this.
ALLEN: How was this finally resolved?
WHITNEY: It went away, really. I don’t think they had gotten any of them out there. The federal government couldn’t condone like Channel 4 going into the thing on the Hill and rebroadcasting it. They couldn’t condone it.
End of Tape 2, Side B
ALLEN: This is Friday, February 26th, 1988, the second day of sitting and talking with Ed Whitney about the period of time when Ed was the executive of the NCTA. Ed, you talked a little bit about your first convention which was held in Pittsburgh. Where were the other ones held during the time when you were the executive? Do you remember?
WHITNEY: We used to run two conventions because it was felt that the western operators didn’t have enough money to go to an eastern convention so we had an annual convention and we had what we called a western regional convention. Now both of them were full fledged conventions. As I recall, the first one I went to, of course, was the one in Pittsburgh and I was supposed to be in charge of it, although I never planned it. We had succeeding conventions in Philadelphia, Miami, oh, it’s hard to say, its been a long time ago. But, we didn’t hold it entirely to Pennsylvania because, even though it was the most populace cable TV state, we tried to give everybody else a break.
ALLEN: When you started in that Pittsburgh convention, you said you had a very small number of exhibitors. During that time did the number grow quite a bit over those three or four years?
WHITNEY: It didn’t grow that much. We were a small industry and we only had a few manufacturers, and they were very sparse and scarce. If we had fifteen or twenty exhibitors at a trade show, we were doing good work. Now, my gosh, you can’t get in the exhibit hall anymore. Of course there are a lot more peddlers and a lot more goods to be peddled but back in those days we used to charge ten dollars a square foot or something for a booth. We were lucky to have fifteen or twenty.
ALLEN: Let’s talk a little bit more about membership services. You put out the weekly bulletin and you mentioned something about a postcard advertising.
WHITNEY: I would say that nothing had been done to teach, I guess we had to teach our members that if you got something to sell you better sell it. And, the best place to sell it is to let somebody know about it. When I got there, I found very quickly that the attitude of the operator was that, if I advertise in the yellow pages of the phone book, I’m doing my job. They weren’t selling their wares and their wares were TV reception, better TV reception. Another thing I discovered was that these people were mailing out a monthly statement to their customers similar to that which you receive from your electric company or your telephone company.
I went up to Cumberland, Maryland to visit the cable system there and they had twenty-two thousand customers. They had an addressograph‑multilith machine there with plates. Every customer had a plate that was running everyday, all day. They were doing cycle billing which I thought was rather wise. And they were getting those customers postcards mailed out to them on a cycle billing basis. Twenty-two thousand. I don’t know if you have ever seen a big one, but that was a big machine. It took a whole floor of a building up, and they had four or five people running around there doing it.
So then some guy came along who was selling coupon books like you get from a bank when you get an installment loan, Royal McBee, they called the outfit. It was Allison Coupon Works. Royal McBee had a system whereby you could take your customer, use the coupon, and you could poke a thing through the holes and lift them up and this would tell you whether the guy was current or not. I said that didn’t sound too bad to me. I think that has an application in our business. So I put it in our little bulletin and I said, “Look you have been spending six cents to send your customer their bill–and that was in the six cent days. I said, “That is seventy‑two cents a year you are spending just to send the customer a bill. Why don’t you give them a twelve month or a twenty‑four coupon book? You pay your car payments on coupon books now, you pay this that and the other that you bought (appliances). What’s wrong with putting the cable on there?” That was the days before we had any (all we had was a basic charge) we didn’t have any fancy things like another tier, or pay TV and all that. So it was a very simple process. We publicized this in our bulletin and doggone if they didn’t, I bet 90 percent of them did it, issued. We helped Allison Coupon Company sell over millions of dollars. I know because these people jumped on it like it was thin sliced bread. That was one thing we did.
Another thing we did was we issued these. I got an artist in Washington and we cooked up a bunch of direct mail pieces. See, the operators in those days, like I told you earlier, all they thought they had to do was advertise in the yellow pages. Maybe once in a while stick a sign out in front of their building, but this is a discretionary expenditure on the part of the public. When you are talking to somebody about a discretionary expenditure, you are talking about something that you have to talk him out of. Not just spending it, but spending it with you. So we designed about eight or ten series of postcards, direct mail postcards, unheard of in the industry. They were all pretty cleverly done. I wrote some of the prose on them. I had a very good illustrator and what we did was try to provoke the comparison of what you were getting off-the-air to what you could get off cable at the same location. To promote or provoke whatever. At any rate, draw attention to it. And that was very successful.
Because we could buy in bulk, I think the postcards–ready to mail except for the postage–were around a penny and a half. I think we sold over a million of them. I know we did. We only had about twenty or twenty‑four different cards but we tried to design them to appeal to the regional areas. In other words, if it worked in Pennsylvania it isn’t going to work in Texas, right?
WHITNEY: Probably. There aren’t any mountains in Texas.
ALLEN: Right. Do you remember the name of the artist who did the illustrations on those?
WHITNEY: I say yeah. I’ll tell you a name that will ring a bell with you though. This artist had a friend whose name was Frank Nowaczek. Frank Nowaczek was my assistant from about the second year on that I was there and Frank was working with this artist whose name I can’t remember but I’ll find it for you.
ALLEN: Spell Nowaczek.
WHITNEY: He’s an Irish boy.
ALLEN: I assume so. He was the assistant executive director then?
WHITNEY: No. He was just my assistant. He was the third person I hired and he was working with this artist whose name I can’t remember. I’ll remember it in a minute.
ALLEN: How about some of the other people who were on the staff during the time you were in NCTA? Can you think of anyone else who comes to mind right away without trying to remember everybody?
WHITNEY: Everybody. The biggest staff that we had while I was there was four people including me. There was Betty, Daphne, and one other and Frank. Five, hey we had a big staff then. I’ll think of their names, I’ll give them to you.
ALLEN: Did you stay at the same 1111 E Street address the entire time?
WHITNEY: We did stay at the 1111 E Street address, but we moved out of the law firm and moved downstairs.
ALLEN: Down to the sixth floor and had your own offices.
WHITNEY: Yeah. Well, it was a ten or twelve story building.
ALLEN: How did you come to leave NCTA?
WHITNEY: Well we got in a big involvement in this S.2653 that I talked about, which is a Senate bill. We had a schism within the industry led by your ex-governor Milt Shapp on the one hand and the staff on the other. It came down to, we were really calling on senators and congressmen–two different groups, one pro, one against. In other words, I would walk in with Harold Miller and we’d tell Senator Randolph of West Virginia that we didn’t favor that bill. And he would say, “Well, how come, because Milt Shapp and some of those boys were in here a couple hours ago and they said they favored it and vice versa. In other words, we were split! So they decided they needed a real professional executive director, president they aren’t even going to make it president now. So they hired some guy (they were going to make me the assistant) I would be running the place but he would be the figure-head, speech maker, and all that good stuff. They were desperate. They didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t hired to be a lobbyist. I was hired to run the place. So that was how it was. I got very dissatisfied particularly after they selected the man that they wanted. He was a professional from the association of association executives and an executive director of some association, so he came over and he made some beautiful platitudes. I mean he could make a speech you wouldn’t believe. We couldn’t understand but he didn’t turn out. He didn’t last at all.
ALLEN: What was his name? (Editors Note: Bill Dalton)
WHITNEY: I’ll think of that too.
WHITNEY: It didn’t make that much of an impression on me because I was offered a job immediately when it became evident that they were going to demote me (not demote me, promote over me) that was what they were going to do. And that’s when I got in the manufacturing business. I went out to Arizona and went to work for Bruce Merrill at AMECO and had a very happy life ever since.
ALLEN: So did they replace you at NCTA?
WHITNEY: Well it is so difficult to say who replaced whom. NCTA staff went from our four or five people to they must have fifty or sixty there now. So who replaced whom?
ALLEN: So in 1960 then you moved to Arizona?
ALLEN: Where in Arizona?
ALLEN: What was AMECO Manufacturing?
WHITNEY: Equipment for cable TV systems, amplifiers, all the ancillary units. We did turnkey work. We developed transistorized equipment for the whole industry and that was through the foresight of Bruce Merrill who owned the outfit. After a couple of years of trying to get the customers to buy other than tube equipment, we became successful. We did some outstanding work from that point on.
ALLEN: Your job with AMECO was?
WHITNEY: National sales manager.
ALLEN: And how big a company was it when you went there in 1960?
WHITNEY: They were grossing about $350,000 a year.
ALLEN: And how many employees?
WHITNEY: Oh, fifteen or twenty.
ALLEN: And most of these were in the manufacturing end?
WHITNEY: Well we were system operators also. I would say fifteen or twenty, it’s probably a few more than that. But in the factory where we made the stuff, fifteen or twenty. They probably had another twenty people out in the field.
ALLEN: And you said you were a system operator? Where did AMECO have systems at that point or did they have more than one?
WHITNEY: Well they had them mostly in Arizona: Globe, Miami I recall, small towns like Winslow, Snowflake, did you ever hear of that?
WHITNEY: They were all small systems. AJO, no we didn’t own AJO, that’s in California. But we had‑‑that’s another adventure story that you ought to hear about because that was one of the first companies that utilized microwave extensively because where are you going to get a signal in Arizona? It’s mountainous. Well you know that it is mountainous there, that’s the best way to express it.
WHITNEY: Correct. I really can’t tell you how many employees we had but we had enough. We took that company from about $350,000 to $400,000 at best a year to over $8 million in three years, primarily because we introduced and sold transistorized cable TV equipment. Nobody else was ahead of us. We were ahead of the pack. We outdid the big guys like Jerrold, SKL, and Entron and we did it good. We did it very, very well and its not only because of me. It was the enthusiasm that was generated by the company that did something that really changed this industry. So, it wasn’t too hard to sell once you get a good thing. I mean, you build a better mouse trap, why you are going to sell it. It wasn’t anything that I did except that I had a big mouth and that I shouted it all over the country. It worked.
ALLEN: What was Merrill’s background?
WHITNEY: He was a CPA.
ALLEN: How did he get into the cable business?
WHITNEY: Well, I don’t know. See my tenure with them didn’t coincide with his. He owned the company before. So I can’t tell you how he got into it. He got out of the service and became a CPA. He saw cable TV–and he was the entrepreneurial type–and he just decided this is for me.
ALLEN: Was he the technical person who brought the transistor in?
WHITNEY: No, just the engineers that we had. We worked very closely with Motorola on it. If I had to make a statement–and I will–we, AMECO, introduced transistors to the industry which was the greatest thing in the world because, prior to that time, we were depending on vacuum tubes. Our equipment’s output, performance, and everything else depended on how long those tubes would last. If the tube goes bad, you’re dead, and now you got customer problems. You got all kinds of problems with transistors. Although they don’t live forever, they sure live a lot longer than a tube and if they can perform the same duty that a tube does, you’re way ahead of the game and you don’t consume all the power that is required to run tube equipment. When you run a vacuum tube you have got a big power draw, and you have to put a power supply on each amplifier. These you can run fifteen of them off of one power supply and that is a very much lower level of power consumption.
ALLEN: You didn’t have the cooling problems.
WHITNEY: Well, you got a cooling problem with transistors but you didn’t have the cooling problem that we used to have with the tube equipment.
ALLEN: Do you recall any of the engineers who worked at AMECO on this project because it sounds like it was pretty important?
WHITNEY: Let’s see. Not off hand, I can’t do it. I’ll give you the names. We’ll fill in the blanks here.
ALLEN: Ok. Let’s talk a little bit about how you marketed to the cable industry. You had a product that was new, you had to sell a new concept and overcome the normal resistance to change.
WHITNEY: Precisely the way we sold it. We had a new product, it’s cheaper to operate and longer life, properly packaged, now what do we have to overcome? We have got to overcome the ignorance of the engineers of the customers because they don’t know anything about this and they are afraid to get into something that they don’t understand. So what we did was we took these guys, if we could get them, and took them out to the factory and we would train them or give them a briefing. But I would go to the boss and I would say, “Hey, look this amplifier is consuming x amount of energy for which you are paying, and you are buying tubes for that amplifier for which you are paying so much 12 by 7’s in the tubes in the output of the equipment then. I said, “Now look, we can put a power supply here on this pole and we can go down here five amplifiers deep and five backwards and five across this way and run ten amplifiers off of one power supply and that doesn’t consume as much as one of your amplifiers.” So I said, “That’s your cost problem. Transistors do not age that much or as rapidly as a tube, so you don’t have to be running up and down the line replacing tubes and checking levels and doing all that good stuff. This is it. Besides that we got wider bandwidths,” which we did simultaneously when we put twelve channels in. Everybody else used five channels. It wasn’t too hard to sell and I got some people like TelePrompTer who gave me an open-ended door for $250,000 dollars worth of equipment. Any time that it went down below a $100,000 there was another $100,000 coming. Those are the kind of orders a fellow likes. Now Irving Kahn was one of the first who saw the benefits of it. It didn’t take many orders like that. I sold Cox Communications. I sold so many I can’t remember them all.
ALLEN: Were you doing a lot of traveling at this time?
WHITNEY: Oh yeah. You can’t sit in Phoenix and sell. I didn’t sell on the telephone, I went out.
ALLEN: Were you the only sales person that AMECO had?
WHITNEY: Oh no. We had others. I had field people. I guess we had about seven people on the road. One in Pennsylvania, one in Florida, one in Dallas.
ALLEN: Were these some people who stayed in the cable industries?
WHITNEY: Oh yeah. Well a lot of them did.
ALLEN: Who were some of them? Can you recall?
WHITNEY: Dick, he’s not in the industry anymore. He is a car dealer up in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I ought to know my own salesmen but this has been a long time ago.
ALLEN: Yes, it has been. And there is nothing harder to recall than names.
WHITNEY: Well, particularly when you jump them on me real quickly when I’m not prepared for it.
ALLEN: Yes. Well, we won’t worry about it.
WHITNEY: Don Wycoff, he was out in California. He was something, I won’t say anything about that.
ALLEN: Any interesting reminiscences about the selling days with AMECO in terms of just unusual things that took place?
WHITNEY: Well not necessarily with AMECO. I did have a very adventurous situation when I was with Entron that might be of interest, historically. Entron is located in Maryland and the company put a cable system in the White House. He wired the whole cotton- picking place and all the buildings nearby. When I became president of the company, I found out about this because they had been sworn to secrecy. So I said my goodness what a great thing here, choice of presidents, cable TV. No way, they wouldn’t let us mention it. We never did mention it, but we built it.
So now along comes–after Kennedy got assassinated–Lyndon Johnson. Now Lyndon has a ranch down there in Texas as everybody knows. The Army was running this cable communications system. There was this captain there. Now this captain calls our office out in Silver Spring, Maryland and says, “Hey, we got a problem down here on the ranch. The TV is all screwed up”. I got hold of Dick Loftus, whose name I am quite sure registers with you. Dick was one of my assistants, my primary one, my favorite. Dick came in and said, “Hey, they want us to go down there and fix that system because the President is having a barbecue down there for all the South American people and his cable TV is not any good and it is our equipment.” So he says, “I am going to go down there.” And I said, “What in the hell are you going to do down there?” He said, “I am going down. They offered us two seats on Air Force One.” Two seats, my dad was in the hospital in San Antonio, which is not too far from there. I said, “Two seats? The President of the United States, don’t you think the president of the company ought to go down there and show a little concern (deep concern) about this whole thing?” Dick said, “Yeah, but which one of us could fix the cotton picking system?” I said, “We’ll worry about that in a minute.” So the captain called back and we said the president of the company is coming down there and I’m coming down there and we’re going to fix it. I still said, “How are we going to do it”?
So we owned a system in Houma, Louisiana, which is over by New Orleans. First of all we didn’t get a ride on Air Force One. They bought us two first class tickets on Braniff. We went down there to Johnson City. We landed at Austin. We rented a car and went up to Johnson City. They had a little ten or twelve room motel there but the minute we ventured in they gave us each a red telephone which we were supposed to plug in the wall that connected us directly to the White House. Great. I started making calls all over. Meantime I called our manager down in Houma, who is a very well-qualified technician. I said, “Get your butt over to Austin and get on down to Johnson City and then we’re going to the ranch.” He could do the work.
So Dick and I go down there and I’ll tell you that my man came and everything coagulated properly. Johnson had twenty‑eight TV sets in that little old ranch house. It is hardly bigger than where I live. He had three big color sets right in the front. He used to watch all networks at the same time. He had them in the dining room, up on the roof, he had them on top of the icebox. He had them everywhere. Then he had all the places for the Treasury guys that were supposed to be watching him, but he didn’t like to see them so he made them stay in this building he had out there with shutters on it. They could look out, but you couldn’t see them. He didn’t want to see any of those people. Our man came in and we walked around and kind of Ooh’d and Aah’d, but there wasn’t any problem except that the Army communications people had not terminated a bunch of lines and they were getting spurious signals all over the house. So we put the terminators on and went on back to Houma, and we were heroes. We had a tour of the ranch free and round trip fair free, ok. The upshot of it was that Johnson was absolutely nuts about TV. We had the White House system, we had the Treasury and all that we wired. Then we got the ranch and wired it. Then we got to fix it.
ALLEN: What I would like to do before we stop is go back to AMECO to see if there is anything else, just kind of wrap that one up. How long did you have the lead on the rest of the manufacturers with the transistor? How long were you in the marketplace before Jerrold and the others came in with transistorized equipment?
WHITNEY: I think we were in the lead for two years. The lead year was the year of the experiment. In other words, we didn’t have the customer acceptance that year because everybody was leery of it.
ALLEN: That was the first year you went with them?
WHITNEY: No that was the second year.
WHITNEY: Now the first year everyone was leery. It was very hard to sell. The second year they got their courage. Then it became easier to sell. And now who comes up, our competition. They say, “Hey, this looks pretty good.” Jerrold, we had an amplifier about 18 inches long and about 4 and 1/2 inches wide. We had our transistors that we were using, we numbered them Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, Q5, and this thing was made out of stamped vented sheet steel covered with some coating. By an odd coincidence, Jerrold came out with the same exact size, the same positions as all the transistors even with our Q numbers on them. Now what are you going to do? You can’t patent circuits. Anyway, I tell you we had probably a year and a half head start on everybody else after we got acceptance, because we established a reputation and the other competitors did not. They were still experimenting.
ALLEN: And you feel that the introduction to the transistor was really a critical element in the growth of the cable industry?
WHITNEY: Oh, I tell you that was the one that made the industry turn around. It really was. It raised the reliability of the service. It cheapened the cost of doing it. It gave it longevity. What else can you say? Oh, it shrunk up the package. It used to be that we had to put great big boxes on there with fans in them to take care of all that tube equipment. Now you got a little, nice, neat package and it hangs on the line and you go.
ALLEN: It made the installation easier.
WHITNEY: Oh, much easier. Everything easier. Just simply transformed the industry.
ALLEN: Did AMECO have any other products that they were selling at that time?
WHITNEY: Well, I think we had a pretty good line of everything you needed. We did turnkey jobs. I mean, we didn’t manufacture cable but we bought it and resold it. We didn’t buy full hardware, we didn’t manufacture it, but we made fittings. We made amplifiers. We made headend equipment which was very, very good. We made all the electronics. The ancillary items we didn’t make. We bought them and resold them, but we had good sources. We invented a number of connectors and had them manufactured and they became very salable.
End of Tape 3, Side A
ALLEN: Friday, the 26th day of February 1988, the second day of sitting and talking with Ed Whitney as part of the project of the Oral History for the National Cable Television Center and Museum. We are in De Land, Florida. To start off this second day we are going to go back and pick up just a few odds and ends of the earlier history of Mr. Whitney that were missed on the first day and then we will go on to continue his career in the cable industry. Ed, one of the things that you had talked about in a letter to me before we got together was a kind of a list of the adventures that you had had during some of your early years. Do you want to recount those for us right now so that we have them as part of the history?
WHITNEY: Well, being an Army brat and being a part of the African Airways that Pan American Airways put together, I was afforded the opportunity to do some very unusual things. Now there in Cairo we were, for instance, able to go over to the pyramids and climb up on top of the highest one. I think it was Cheops. C‑H‑E‑O‑P‑S, Cheops. Now when you climb a pyramid, you are talking about, you are not just walking up steps, those blocks that made those pyramids are about 4 and 1/2 feet high so you just don’t simply step up on top of them. You climb them. It was a very exhausting trip, but we made it to the top. We looked over and then we went down and then we rode camels in front of the Sphinx which most people did.
The Arabs made a lot of money by letting us ride their camels around all the time. But the thing I think that was most exciting (there were two things) one was that we took–in relation to my Pan American African limited days–a bunch of maintenance equipment up to Lydda which was the airport that served the Israelites, the Israel people. The city was Tel Aviv but the airport was Lydda, that’s the way it went. So we took all this equipment up there and we were flying in DC3s like we always did up there in Africa and we came back home from dumping off this special cargo. So the Dead Sea happens to exist somewhere between Lydda and Cairo and it is a little off to the left, but the pilot decided (who was a very good friend of mine) that what we ought to do is go over and fly over the Dead Sea which was 200 feet below sea level. Therefore, we went over and did that. We flew about 100 feet above the level of water of the Dead Sea and we accomplished something I believe that not a heck of a lot of people ever did. So, when we came out of that though, we went over and we had to get back on the route to Cairo, which had to be approved by the British and all the thing‑a‑ma‑bobs that you had to go through.
An interesting thing happened on that trip. We had a young fellow who was a mechanic in Cairo that went along with us. I went along because I was the route briefing officer and I therefore should know the way back home or up wherever we were going. So this kid got up in the right-hand seat which is the copilot’s seat in a DC3 and this pilot was a fellow named Ranny McCane. Ranny came out as a full captain on Braniff flying every type aircraft that Braniff Airways ever flew and he spent many, many years with them. But he was a young twenty‑three or twenty‑four year old kid like I was when we did all this good stuff. So Ranny talked to the kid. The copilot went back and he was lying on the bucket seats in the back of the airplane on one side. I was up against the bulkhead on the other side lying on the bucket seats. Now, what are you going to do on an airplane, lie around if you don’t have seats, you lie around.
Tel Aviv was one of the rest areas and the recuperation areas for the British, for the people that were fighting in the desert. There was a major there and he wanted to hitchhike a ride back, so we gave him a position on the airplane which was somewhere in the back, but he was lying on the bucket seats way in the back of the airplane. So as is the habit of all the pilots over there, most of the pilots, because you had to steer airplanes like you wouldn’t believe. They turned this airplane over to the copilot, not the copilot, this little, young engineer. He was even younger than I was then. So what he did was he grabbed hold of the wheel and before he grabbed hold of the wheel, the pilot ran the trim tabs to put the airplane in a nose down configuration. But he held it. He overcame the trim tabs to the point where he could keep it straight and level and then he turned to the copilot, who happened to be this young guy and said, “You want to take over”? “Yeah, I would,” he said. “Ok, put your hands on the wheel and get up there,” and he’s in the copilot’s seat. The copilot is back there snoozing with me. The upshot of it was, when Ranny turned loose of the control column that airplane went into an almost outside loop and almost totaled the whole bunch of us. And Ranny has never forgotten that. He knew he did it. And we just had this reunion last year down in Orlando and he was so embarrassed. He even got up and admitted he did it in front of all these people. That’s forty‑five or forty‑six years ago. But, he pretty near killed me, and he and I are the finest friends.
ALLEN: Now over the years you’ve crossed the Atlantic by boat and by air, the Pacific by both boat and air?
WHITNEY: Nodding my head doesn’t do us any good here, does it?
ALLEN: It doesn’t come through real well. No.
WHITNEY: As I told you before, in the continuity of this whole thing, my dad was in the Army, and he was subject to being transferred to various and sundry places including the Philippine Islands, including Panama which we did later. But, we, as children–Army brats–went to the Philippines on the USS GRANT, which was a big luxury. It was a small and not very luxurious boat that was used by the Military Transport Command or whatever they call themselves. It was the one they hauled us around on. They only had three boats. This was back in the thirties. They had the USS GRANT, The Chateau Theirry, and they had the Saint Mihiel. The Chateau Theirry and the Saint Mihiel were the small boats. The Grant was the big boat, but it wasn’t very big. But we went to the Philippines on it when I was, I guess I didn’t make quite to the seventh grade. So how old must I be, I can’t remember.
WHITNEY: Thirteen, fourteen, yeah. Because that’s about right. And we sailed and it took us thirty days to get to Manila from San Francisco. So that was my trans Pacific crossing. When we came home, they had a couple of deals that they made with the military in Manila whereby you could get space on a freighter, mom and pop and the kids. So my dad booked us on the Nord Dutcher Line. It was a German boat, Nord Dutcher, and the name of the boat was the Derflinger. So all it had was accommodations for maybe twelve passengers as an adjunct to what it was doing, which was hauling freight. They were very delightful as I recall the trip, it was very delightful. They fed us every four hours. You know the Germans like to eat. And you could go in there at eleven o’clock at night and pick up a little snack. They always had something out for you to eat. They treated us very well and we had an enjoyable trip.
What we were doing was going from Manila to pick up the GRANT, my old boat, up in Nagasaki. Now the GRANT was due in Nagasaki at a certain point in time and we were due there in a certain point of time, but we stopped, we went up to Canton, China. We went to Peking. We went to Shanghai. What we really did was toured the coast of China, then we went across to Nagasaki and caught the Grant and went home to San Francisco. And that was what everybody did that was stationed in the Philippines. They always took that tour on the home because they hadn’t been over those places, so we went there.
ALLEN: Did you have occasion to fly across the Pacific during World War II or did you go by boat again when you went back to the Philippines?
WHITNEY: No. No way, I flew both ways across the Pacific, the second time around. That was my first trip. We made the round trip and it took about thirty days. When you are on a boat thirty days, you’ve been on a boat a long time. But that was the way we traveled in those days. I am talking about the thirties now, I am not talking about the day after tomorrow.
The second time I went to the Pacific, I flew. And, following all the military and everything, will you forget about that for a moment, I was launched across the Pacific from a place in California called Fairfield, which is at Marysville, not far from Sacramento which was an Army Air Force base. And we flew in DC4s. Now DC4s are very slow but reliable, thank God. It took us fourteen hours from Fairfield to get to Hawaii which was our first stop. And then we had to fly to Kwajalein and Johnson Atoll, and then we had to fly to Guam and then he had to fly to Manila. And every one of those flights were seven, eight, ten, fourteen hours. The old airplane would probably do about a hundred–some pilots would probably not agree with me–but those airplanes didn’t do a heck of a lot better than maybe a hundred fifty, maybe a hundred sixty miles an hour. And when you go the distance between California and Hawaii in a four engine airplane that only makes that speed, you are going to be on an airplane a great deal of time, which I was. Anyway, we flew over and we flew back. The old GRANT took twenty‑nine days. It probably took me about thirty‑five hours to get to Manila from San Francisco on an airplane so I made the route each way. Now, do you want to talk about the south Atlantic?
WHITNEY: When I went with Pan American, I went to New York and I got all my shots, as I told you before, and we got all prepared to go to Africa to build this airline. So they put us on this boat which was named the Acadia, which was a tour boat that went from Boston up to Nova Scotia. Anyway, they took us and put us on (there were a hundred and some odd people‑-one hundred eighty nine or ninety as I testified before) I think I’m in front of a court now, but as I said before, but it took us twenty‑nine days to get to Africa from New York. Now the reason it took so long is that we were detouring. We went all the way down the east coast of Brazil before we even took the shot across to go into the underbelly of Africa to Lagos and places like that. We weren’t allowed to talk to anybody. We weren’t allowed off that boat in any port because our mission was super secret. It took twenty‑nine days. It took thirty days to get to Manila from San Francisco which is a heck of a lot farther, but because we had a detour around the submarine zones and belligerent waters and the whole thing, it took us about the same length of time to get from New York to the west coast of Africa. Now that was my boat trip to Africa.
Now my flying trip was when I came home after my contract was up. We did all our thing over there that we could do in the interim. I was over there when Pearl Harbor occurred. We weren’t belligerent then, we were just sort of helping out. All of a sudden we became belligerent too like the Germans. So when I came home, I flew out of Fisherman’s Lake, Nigeria, which was comfortable and that is where I used to run our big boats.
When I was with Pan American they had these Boeing flying boats. Took off at six o’clock in the evening and we flew for sixteen hours to get to Recife, Brazil, straight across the Atlantic in the narrowest point. Brazil comes out one way and Africa comes the other so we didn’t go through the longest route, we sure took a long time to get there. Now that old airplane used to plug along at about one hundred forty five miles an hour and you can believe that sixteen hours is a lot of time. So I guess I can tell you that I went over on the boat and came back. Now, I have been to Panama and back two or three times and I go from San Francisco through the Canal up to New York and that twice. I have flown that during the war. We had a cargo run down there so I flew it back and forth. So actually I flew across the Pacific, or ridden on a boat across the Atlantic. I have ridden on an airplane back. And I have ridden around Panama Canal a half a dozen times. I have been through that canal. We would just get on the transport and go across the canal, about fifty miles, have lunch, get on the railroad, and come back over.
ALLEN: This was when you were living down there when your father was stationed down there?
ALLEN: A good day’s outing when you didn’t have anything else to do.
WHITNEY: What else you gonna do?
ALLEN: Yeah. A good, rich set of experiences, obviously.
WHITNEY: Well, see there was another thing. Oh, down in Panama I told you that I had stood on the floor, if you want to call it that, of the Mariflore’s Locks. What happened was that they used to periodically clean the locks and they would drain them completely. Now I was in the biology course at the Canal Zone Junior College and our biology teacher was the most imaginative man in the world. One of the things that we had to do, the whole class, was climb down the sides of the locks. Mariflore’s was the one that we went into. And there is a little catch basin up right by the lock doors where all the water drains out into a puddle. Those locks are awesome. You would never believe how deep and big they are, but there was this catch basin there and our biology teacher took us down. We had to climb down about thirty, forty, or fifty feet. Ladders along the side of the lock. We put a net in there to get specimens. We were catching specimens. They had shark in there that weighed two hundred pounds. We pulled out–I wouldn’t go in there I wouldn’t even wade in it anyways, it was over your head but shark, well never mind. We caught specimens and we caught a ton of them but at least I’ve been down there and I did it.
ALLEN: It was a good, rich place to study the biology of the sea anyway.
WHITNEY: No question about that.
ALLEN: Ok. When we finished up yesterday, we were talking about Phoenix and AMECO and the work that you did as national sales manager there. You were actively involved in the sale of equipment and related items that AMECO was producing and selling. AMECO also at that point ran some local cable system or systems?
WHITNEY: The owner of AMECO owned them.
ALLEN: Were you actively involved in the management of the system at all at that point?
ALLEN: You hadn’t gotten into that end of the cable business yet?
WHITNEY: No. I was selling equipment.
ALLEN: And successfully.
WHITNEY: Well, there had never been any complaints.
ALLEN: And that was what lead to you then going to Entron?
WHITNEY: Well, that didn’t lead to it, but it resulted in it. Bruce Merrill was the owner of AMECO and the absolute monarch of it. He owned it. I mean he can be monarch, right?
ALLEN: That’s right.
WHITNEY: He was a CPA and a great, great believer in keeping records. I’m a salesman, always have been and always will be, I hope. And, I hadn’t much care about records. Bruce didn’t really. We never had a problem with each other except that he promoted a guy whose name I’m not going to mention over and above me who was a record keeper. He would write notes, everything that was said. The problem with him was that he would lose his notes. So I didn’t bother to write them because if I would have lost them, I didn’t lose any. Well, anyway the upshot of it was that Bruce wanted to make this guy a vice president and I wanted to be the vice president and he thought this guy–because he kept all these notes–was much more capable than I was to be vice president. So we sort of went this way. I went my way and he went that way and Entron which was the second probably largest manufacturer in the industry at that time.
ALLEN: Second to?
ALLEN: To Jerrold, ok.
WHITNEY: Entron evidenced some interest in my services. So from that point on I encouraged them to evidence a little bit more interest in my services. Eventually, we got together and I resigned from AMECO and became Vice President of Sales for Entron.
ALLEN: This entailed moving from Phoenix back to the Washington area.
WHITNEY: You better believe it. And I really didn’t want to do that because I had already done my duty in the Washington area. I thought their only point that was good and the only reason that I really considered Entron is, first of all, I was in the cable television business. But, secondly, I could live in Silver Spring, Maryland but the flow of traffic from Silver Spring in the morning going to downtown Washington is horrible, absolutely. I fought that traffic for four years and I swore I would never go there again. But when I figured out the traffic flow, I said, “Everybody’s going to town.” We had a plant out on the other side of town and there wasn’t any traffic there. And the same was the reverse coming home from work. All the traffic is coming out and I’m going down the road. So I said, “This is not too bad.” So I accepted the job.
ALLEN: How long were you at AMECO?
WHITNEY: I was four years at AMECO.
ALLEN: So this was then about the mid-1960s?
WHITNEY: 1964 I went with Entron so about 1960.
ALLEN: And what kind of things was Entron into at that time in the cable industry? Were they were manufacturing?
WHITNEY: They were manufacturing and we also operated. I am going to have to say we because I became we. I became president of the company. But I was hired as the vice president of sales and at that time the company was well established, one of the oldest. I hate to admit we might have been second to Jerrold but at times we were. Jerrold was the oldest, as you well know, and we were titillating along or tantalizing or whatever being second and every once in a while we might even become first for a week or two and but anyway we competed not violently but…
WHITNEY: Vigorously. Yeah. So Entron had a fine engineering staff. The chief engineer, whose name I’m not going to mention, didn’t think that transistors were the future of our industry. So he stuck to tubes. Now I had already gone through AMECO and I had run the gambit of practically introducing transistors to the industry. And I couldn’t understand it. The only piece of transistorized equipment that was in the Entron product line was what we call a line extender, which is a little bitty thing that pumps up the signal until it gets into your house. All the rest of it was tubes. So when I got there, and I was hired as vice president of sales, I started putting the pressure on the engineers to bring forth a full line of transistorized equipment because I saw–and everybody else that bought it saw–that was the way the industry was going to go. You’re not going to be dealing with tubes anymore for many reasons, the main reason was economy. They’re cheaper. Number two, they’d cost less to run, and number three they are easier to maintain and other obvious reasons, small packages. You didn’t have to go and buy yourself a telephone pole to nail one of them up. You just put them on the line. Well anyways, we finally got our engineers to doing it.
WHITNEY: So what?
ALLEN: How long did it take Entron to get to recognize the need to go to transistors from vacuum tubes?
WHITNEY: Well when our sales declined and our competitors increased it didn’t take too long. We woke up. I was trying to wake them up. We had the finest engineering people. Entron had the highest output tube-type equipment available in the industry at the time and that was only twelve channel equipment, no big deal. But none of the others had any similar to it and none could. You see, the higher the output of the amplifier, the fewer of them you need and these amplifiers cost about four or five hundred dollars each, so you just don’t willy nilly scatter them around. You better be careful of them that way, how you use them. But we discovered that the transistor amplifier was much more desirable, much more utilizable in the distribution system that we were doing. And the old tube type amplifiers you had to go out and adjust them. But the transistor amplifier does not require the constant attention that a tube type amplifier does. You don’t have to change tubes when tubes get weak. And they don’t consume anywhere near the energy that the tube type does.
ALLEN: Who was the president of Entron when you went there?
WHITNEY: A gentleman named Bob McGheehan.
WHITNEY: He is Jewish I think. (Just a joke!)
ALLEN: Do you remember how his name is spelled?
WHITNEY: Yeah. McGheehan and he is not Jewish. He is a good Catholic Irishman if there ever was one. He was one of my close friends even though he was a competitor before. He was vice president of the company when I was with a competing company.
ALLEN: With AMECO. And then it was when he was made president that you…
WHITNEY: That he became president and he hired me as vice president because I think he liked the way I did my own work and I liked the way he did his work.
ALLEN: How big of a company was Entron at that time?
WHITNEY: Well in cable TV we were pretty big. I just read in the paper this morning that the (what’s a small business loan association) their definition of a small business was anything less than 520. Well, we were smaller than that. At Entron we had 135‑150 people but we were also not just manufacturing. We were doing operating systems, so we had people out in the field. We owned and operated seven cable TV systems and you have to have people to go out and run the lines and install the customers and run the office and have the good engineering support from the factory. I would say that we were probably 150 people at the time at which we will talk about later.
ALLEN: Were you also manufacturing everything you sold?
WHITNEY: Oh yeah. No, not everything. I’m sorry. I say, “Oh yeah.” We really manufactured the electronic equipment, the amplifiers. We manufactured a lot of the ancillary items that we handled, but we didn’t manufacture cable. We didn’t manufacture fittings, some we did, but not enough to be significant. We manufactured primarily the electronic equipment which was used to distribute signals over the cable we bought from somebody and over the pole hardware we bought from somebody and over the last wire we bought from other people. You can’t be all of everything.
ALLEN: Right. Who were the primary cable manufacturing companies at that point?
WHITNEY: I would say that the one, well there were two. Now what point are we talking about?
ALLEN: This was your Entron time–1964 to 1965.
WHITNEY: Well the Superior Cable Company which was located in Hickory, North Carolina was our primary provider. Jerrold used Times Wire and Cable and they were a very big supplying company. We used to buy cable from Canada, and we also used to buy cable from Rome Cable Company. They all made the same cable and they all made the same specs. The specifications of coaxial cable were set in bronze. I mean there is no way you can change it. So you build cable to that spec. The only thing you can do is expand your number of feet that you can put on a reel of cable. Most of the companies, and I have been very familiar with it, could only run a thousand feet of cable. Now when I say run a thousand feet of cable I am talking about taking the big ingot, is it an ingot? Ingot.
ALLEN: Ingot. Ok.
WHITNEY: I call it ingot because I’m from Texas. Take a big slug of copper and you put it, start reducing that to a, it goes through so many stages, but I’ve been through those, you finally come out with a little tiny copper wire that goes along here. It’s been drawn down so many times through dies that if you have got an ingot that is probably six or eight feet long, probably six inches tall, and probably eight inches wide, you can build hundreds of miles of little, tiny cable after its drawn.
End of Tape 3, Side B
ALLEN: This is Tape 4, Side A, recorded on Friday the 26th day of February 1988. We were just talking about the suppliers of cable. You had indicated the major companies that were involved in the business. How big of a sales staff did you have at Entron at that time, Ed?
WHITNEY: Well, I had people. The problem in the industry is that–it’s a national problem in that if you want to cover the entire industry you have got to go national. It could be a regional thing but we were a national company. We were in the Washington, D.C. area and we were one of the better known names, therefore we should have been represented in all areas of the United States. Now you got a problem. You got to hire salesmen, and you have got to put salesmen where they can expose themselves to the customers. So we had a west coast office in San Jose, and we had an office in Dallas. When I am talking about offices I am talking about a guy that works out of his bedroom and jumps in his car and goes out and sells equipment and talks to the people. We’re not talking about branch offices, we’re talking about representation. We had a man in New England, we had a man in Florida, we had a man in Atlanta, we had a man in Dallas as I said. I think, at the most, we had somebody in Pennsylvania, we probably had seven what we were very proud to announce, district offices. But they were really salesmen and they worked out of their homes or worked out of some office, but they did a good job. They covered the territory and that was the main thing that we wanted.
ALLEN: Now the hardest problem is, can you remember who any of these people were?
WHITNEY: That’s a hard problem and I’m not going to answer it, but if I had an opportunity to edit this thing, I will simply put in their names because I know I can remember Ed, Art, can’t remember too good. I’m not going to waste our time trying to remember those guys’ names because they were neat guys.
ALLEN: Names are the hardest things to try to come up with.
WHITNEY: Well, quickly you know.
ALLEN: Yeah. Were there any things that happened in terms of major marketing activities or major sales that went on at that time that particularly stick in your mind? You talked about when you were at AMECO that Irving Kahn was one of the first to recognize the importance of transistors. Was there anything like that going on at Entron that just pops into your mind?
WHITNEY: We were talking about a very interesting situation that happened in our industry back in those days and I can’t recall the exact dates, but I will recall them. Telephone companies decided that they would get into the cable TV business. This has to do with a lot of gyrations that went on in Washington. The telephone companies, particularly AT&T, issued a set of specifications for cable TV equipment because if they were going to recommend to the Bell System the equipment that they would approve for them to use to build cable TV and this was in competition naturally with the entrepreneur–the guy that was there before– and everything else, but I think that the AT&T, the Bell Labs whichever set the standards for our industry as a manufacturer. Now I am talking set the standards that are the standards today. Our equipment was designed so haphazardly, and as we went along we had a situation that you couldn’t really select from one manufacturer to another because there were so many bad things about each one of their equipment. But, the Bell people–now I’m a manufacturer, Jerrold is a manufacturer, Kaiser is a manufacturer, half dozen other ones–they, AT&T, comes up and says, “We are going to get in the cable TV business and we are going to tell you what kind of equipment you are going to make for us so we can do it our way.” Well, their way wasn’t bad. So we jumped, they called it the KS specs back in those days.
ALLEN: KS specs, what did that stand for, do you have any idea?
WHITNEY: Something they invented, I don’t know.
WHITNEY: But, they were pretty stringent specifications. We got little tin can amplifier housings hanging upside down and wasp nests and all that. We got big things out here that we have to put fans in to keep the equipment cool. They said, “Look, we want to hermetically–or as close to hermetically as you can get it–seal cast closing for the amplifying equipment which we can hang on the line.” Now that doesn’t sound like a bad deal except when, as I recall, our largest amplifier required a box on a pole that was about three feet square and about twelve inches deep. Now we are talking about something that is nine inches wide, or not even nine inches wide, and eighteen inches long and it’s about four inches wide and it is sealed, the elements can’t get into it. So they put these specs on us and we were always hungry for business naturally. So what we did was we went the route with them, all the manufacturers. At Entron we weren’t the only one and they had to be sealed from weather, they had to be sealed from radiation. Now that was a difficult job to do. But it was done. Everybody came out with their own housing, but it all conformed to the KS specs. Then the federal government prohibited the telephone companies from getting into the cable TV business. But, in the interim they were in charge of my market and man I was doing business with New England Telephone Company, Michigan Bell Telephone Company, everybody was. The point I am trying to make is that what really made our industry toe the line with regard to the equipment and its housings and its survivability in the atmosphere, was the telephone companies: the Bell Systems, the Bell Laboratories, and AT&T. They did it to us, we responded properly, we did it for them, and then they weren’t allowed to do it.
ALLEN: So that here was a case of the customer telling the manufacturer how to build the equipment they were going to buy.
WHITNEY: Man, did you ever try to sell anything to Sears & Roebuck? They won’t tell you how to manufacture it.
ALLEN: Now did the telephone companies at that time actually begin to string cable and to sell cable services?
WHITNEY: Oh yes, definitely.
ALLEN: When did they start this?
WHITNEY: It was in the late ’60s.
ALLEN: You were at Entron in the mid-’60s, were you not?
WHITNEY: Yeah, so it must have been in the upper end of the ’60s.
ALLEN: And how long did they stay in the cable business before the federal government took them back out again?
WHITNEY: Well, now that you are going to have to go to another tape which my friend Strat Smith will read to you and tell you about, but I’ll tell you when it happened to us. I made, as vice president of sales, a deal with Stromberg‑ Carlson which happens to be headquartered now in Lake Mary. At that time they were headquartered in Rochester, New York. We manufactured equipment and they sold it to small, independent telephone companies all over the United States that were using their switching equipment. The point I am trying to make is, if it were not for the telephone companies, I don’t know what we would be doing today. We probably would have stumbled on it ourselves, but they dictated that you will do it this way, and you will do it properly, and you will do it and pass our inspection. And we did it. I don’t think we would have done it for another three or four years.
ALLEN: How long did it take Entron to meet the telephone company’s specification?
WHITNEY: Not too long. See we had already entered into agreements or sales agreements with Stromberg‑Carlson and they had some specifications they wanted also. We couldn’t go lackadaisically along and say, “Hey, we got Stromberg‑Carlson selling our equipment.” We had to get down there and get something to them that their customers would approve of. It didn’t take very long for the telephone company to say, “Hey, you better do it this way or nobody is going to buy it.” And we did it that way.
ALLEN: Who was your vice president for engineering at that time who accomplished this?
WHITNEY: Well the vice president of engineering all the time I was there was a fellow named Heinz Blum.
ALLEN: And he had how big a staff of engineers to work on this?
WHITNEY: Who are you going to call engineers? You have to have draftsmen to draw them up. You have engineers to scheme them up, you got to have test engineers, you got to have practical engineers, I don’t know, I would say we probably had thirty-five.
ALLEN: So a pretty good portion of the company was engineering.
WHITNEY: Well, this is a rapidly developing industry still going on right now. I mean today we are talking about one thing and that’s not going to happen tomorrow, that’s going to be better. It’s the obsolescence factor in this business is such that you won’t, you really can’t believe how. No I am not going to philosophize on this tape but we went from nothing to something in a very short period of time. A very short period of time.
ALLEN: It required a lot of constant changing.
WHITNEY: And the problem is that everything that happened made the things that we’d done before obsolete. How are you going to handle that kind of a deal, particularly with the Internal Revenue Service? Those people don’t understand it. I mean what you got today may be obsolete tomorrow. And I mean tomorrow, I don’t mean two weeks from tomorrow. I mean tomorrow. I have got a consulting thing going on right now where somebody built a cable system in 1971 and sold it in 1983. The Internal Revenue Service, our friends and pickpockets, stated that the assets are worth 358 percent more than the cost of those assets at the point of sale. I’m saying, the assets are obsolete, completely, and they were mostly written off. We’re talking about depreciation recovery.
ALLEN: Let’s continue on with Entron. What was the sales volume of the company?
WHITNEY: It was between three and four million a year. It was a small company.
ALLEN: And then in addition to the manufacturing company?
WHITNEY: Well we owned seven cable TV systems. That’s an entirely different subject. I am talking about the manufacturing. We had to maintain and operate those cable systems, but we had management and we did whatever was proper to do to see to it that they ran with engineering support. We had two systems in Louisiana, one in Houma and one in New Iberia. We had two in North Carolina, one of them in Wilmington and one of them in Jacksonville. We had three in Pennsylvania, or might be four. You probably recognize some of these places. We had one in Sharon, DuBois, and then we had one in the Pittsburgh area which was Swissvale-North Braddock, which are suburbs of Pittsburgh. We had two out of the seven systems. We had two of them that were managed by women.
ALLEN: This was when, in the 1960s, late l960s? Do you remember who they were?
WHITNEY: Oh, yeah, I think. Well one of them is, still I think she is still manager, in Swissvale and North Braddock. I’ll fill that blank in later. And the other one was in DuBois. I think we probably were the leading cable entity that hired women.
ALLEN: Now were you at the time vice president of sales?
WHITNEY: No, this was at the time that I became president.
ALLEN: Right. Now do you want to talk a little bit about how you became president of Entron?
WHITNEY: Yeah, the Board of Directors elected me president.
ALLEN: What happened to the president that brought you in?
WHITNEY: It was kind of complicated. I really don’t know what happened. I think there was a clash of personalities between the, you see the Boston Herald Traveler bought us. They owned 53 percent of the stock.
ALLEN: Was this after you came there?
WHITNEY: Yeah. This happened while I was vice president of sales. I am sitting around there like “Big Bird,” but the internal problems were continuing. Boston Herald Traveler owned Channel 5 in Boston and they owned AM & FM stations. They were big in broadcasting and in media. I can’t recall what the details are before the ones that were managing me, but you know who tells me what to do, because they got 53 percent. That’s what we call the head man. . Anyway, the management of the Herald Traveler was involved in sort of a scandal involving paying off one of the FCC commissioners. Now this goes back to the old famous Channel 5 fight that happened years ago. Now the present management, which is one that managed me, or I would like to say helped me along. They used to pick up the checks. But anyway, the previous management of the Herald Traveler obviously as it turned out, gave favors to a commissioner of the FCC. His name was Peter Mack. He had a pension for liking a little booze, and they gave him some booze. I don’t know how often they did it but they got caught at it. So now you don’t do that kind of thing. You’re not supposed to. But anyway, it resolved itself into a fight which went all the way to the Supreme Court. Now the Herald Traveler much later than that bought into our company to the point where they controlled it. A fellow by the name of Akerson was the Chairman of the Board.
WHITNEY: George Akerson. Very nice people. They packed the board, immediately. I mean we had some outside directors, but they controlled the board, there was no question about it. I was on the board. But when that case came before the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court decided not to hear it, that meant they were dead.
ALLEN: What happened to the man that was president of the company? They just voted him out?
WHITNEY: Well, I’m not real sure. The Herald Traveler bought into the company while Bob McGeehan was the president, and they ended up owning 53 percent of the company. It might have been a personality clash, it might have been any number of reasons, none of which I know. I just don’t know why they decided that Bob had to go, and for some amazing reason they decided that maybe I should replace him, and that’s what happened.
ALLEN: Then who did you bring in as the vice president for sales when you became president of the company?
WHITNEY: Well, of course, I had a lot of experience in the field dealing with other sales people that were employed in the industry that worked for me when I was at AMECO. But there was one individual who was outstanding in sales of peripheral equipment to go into cable TV systems. Like the time and weather machine which was a big thing in those days. We didn’t have satellite dishes and all the other good things, so we had to put on certain features that might appeal to the public. One of them was the time and weather monitor. I have to tell you I can’t remember that guy’s name and I hired him as the vice president. But, I’ll fill in the little blanks on your tape. Just as a side comment, when he went to conventions, he always took his golf clubs with him and that didn’t strike me as being what you might call an avid salesman. Unless he thought he was going to sell these things on the golf course.
ALLEN: What conventions did Entron exhibit at in those days?
WHITNEY: Every convention. Every convention.
ALLEN: What were some of them? NCTA I suppose.
WHITNEY: Well all the NCTA and then the states and regionals. We had either exhibited or had representation at every one, even down to the Florida Association meeting, and the one in South Central Association, the Pennsylvania Association. We had to be there.
ALLEN: So that was an important part of your marketing activities, the conventions?
WHITNEY: Well sure it was profitable, but it was important because we were there.
ALLEN: What were the other marketing strategies? You had your district offices, people working out of their bedrooms, and they went around and made individual calls on individual cable operators?
WHITNEY: Well, I hope they did. I don’t know for sure whether they did or not. That is what they were being paid for. Our marketing strategy was just to be around. You have got to understand about this business. Entrepreneurs, people that bought the systems and built the systems. How we did what we call turnkey jobs. In other words, “I got a town and I got the money and I say, “Come in as is.” I got the wherewithal, and the know how and everything else to build it for you. You pay me.” Now here is this guy who is the investor. This is a little bit back in the history, but I’ll guarantee you that’s how this business got started. So you would build the guy a system. “The guy,” that’s not very nice terminology. You build the investor a system and turn it on for him with the old key. Now he has got a cable TV system. All he has to do is start hustling customers. That’s a bad word. All he has to do is go out and solicit customers, get them, collect the money from them, pay your bill and pay all of his other bills and eventually he comes out in pretty good shape.
Now this is the way it went. We would go out and look for people. That was the only way we could sell equipment. We would go out and find a town that didn’t have a cable TV system and go in as a salesman and look at it and say, “This is a good town.” They don’t get “this” and they don’t get “that” and we would hustle around, we would go to the bank and say, “Who are the big spenders in town?” And the bank would say, “What’s his name over here, the Buick dealer,” or “Old what’s his name, the guy that runs whatever,” and we would go see him. That’s the way we created business. We would sell them on the idea of building a cable system. Look at all the money you are going to make. Look at all the money I am going to get because I am going to build that for you. That’s the way it was sold and that’s the way it went. There wasn’t any question about it. We appraised the market before we went into it and then we appraised the market for the entrepreneur and if we got him, then we built him a system.
ALLEN: What were some of the systems that you worked that way?
WHITNEY: Oh, name one that I didn’t. I guess the best one I ever did was Fayetteville, North Carolina. Big system. The guy was in the construction business. He built homes. He put together some of his buddies and we put together for him the package and sold it to him. I mean turnkey. We turned him over an operating system. We did it in Laurinburg, North Carolina. A bunch of Scotch farmers down there. They are all Scottish down there. You might be interested but the main man was the president of the bank, the best man to go to.
ALLEN: If he doesn’t have the money, nobody is going to have it.
WHITNEY: That is the way we did it all over the country. We created, we really and truly created our own market in selling equipment now. I am not talking about selling cable TV or anything else. I am talking about selling equipment. We created, we had to. And everybody, I would doubt that there is anybody that didn’t make money off of what we did for them. We would go to the city council meetings, we would do lobbying around town, whatever was necessary and we would see to it that they got a franchise. We would even furnish them franchises. We would go and help them get their pole attachment agreements with the power company or the telephone company. We would get them the rights of way and everything. We did it for them.
ALLEN: So it was a much different job than just selling equipment?
WHITNEY: That is what they called creative selling.
ALLEN: And this was true at AMECO, Jerrold, everybody was?
WHITNEY: Oh, all of us. Man, the dollars that I didn’t get my hands on from the knowledge that I gained from this is pitiful. Really.
ALLEN: Were there towns where you would go in and Jerrold would go in and both be trying to put together an investor package at the same time?
WHITNEY: Well we would have to go back to the old basics as to which equipment is the best. And then we would do that. We’d go ahead with them. Primarily one of us would have been the first guy in town and we got the people lined up. And then the people got a little suspicious of us maybe, or doubtful of our ability or whatever, and they might be intruding. There is one reason that they wouldn’t do it. They might invite another company to come in and make a bid. In other words, they’re not going to take our bid which is a dictated bid if we helped them get the franchise. If we helped them get the licenses and we did all that good stuff, cautious people would say, “Well, let’s see who else is around,” and they would find somebody. It might have been Jerrold, it might have been AMECO, it might have been whoever was in the business. And they were very prudent. The only thing you can do then is to stand up and assert your superiority as best you can express it and say we do this better than they do. It is just like buying a car.
ALLEN: Were there any cities like this or towns that you tried to get into and, for one reason or another, just couldn’t make it?
WHITNEY: No. Generally at the height of the activity and franchising, the investors were not a problem. Let’s take Rome, Georgia for instance. Rome, Georgia is up north of Atlanta. Forty or fifty or eighty miles. And a local broadcaster in Atlanta asks for us to give some assistance to obtain a franchise for Rome, Georgia. So I went down there, this was when I was with Entron, and he explained the problem. He wanted to get a cable TV franchise. He was a radio broadcaster. Anyway, we went up to city council meeting in Rome, Georgia. I flew down from Washington, we got in a car and drove up there. Now there was a band of TV repair people and antenna installation people and they were better organized than we were. We went to the council meeting that night and they threw us out because we hadn’t done our homework. We could have gone to the TV repair guys and said, “Hey, look, your business is going to be so much better because what are we going to do? We are going to bring color TV in and bring more signals in. We are going to bring in all this good stuff that these people want on TV and you’re fighting because you want to sell some guy some crummy old antenna that is going to blow down in about six months.” I didn’t know enough about it to do it that way. And we didn’t have enough time. We just went to the city council and they were in, there were more of them than there were us, and we lost it. Now Rome, Georgia has been built and it promised out just precisely the way we figured it would. Beautifully. But we didn’t get the franchise. So I mean that is the kind of thing that we went through in the little bit earlier days of this thing. I don’t know how to describe it. I would say creating a market is what we were doing. Really.
ALLEN: Were there some people who came to you and said, “I’ve got this idea, I want to build a cable system in my town and can you supply the equipment?” Were there some of those kinds of entrepreneurs out there too?
WHITNEY: Yeah. They had heard of us somehow. They might have run across us. Entrepreneurs are not dumb. They go to conventions. They listen to people and they look at the exhibits and they figure and figure. I don’t know of any that just came out of the woodwork and said, “Hey, I want to buy or make a cable TV system, I heard about it.” I don’t think that’s true. Everybody that has ever made an investment in this business is a very considered investment. It is not an off of your head type of decision. They’re smart. The people that did it were very, very brilliant every one of them. Every one of them has made a very well earned profit in this business on the resale value. I have sold to the broker small systems, mom and pops. Those people couldn’t have made that much money in their lifetime except they got in cable TV. Up and behind the hills in West Virginia, Kentucky, and out in the prairies, in Texas. The return on their investment has been very, very good for them against the purchase price today.
ALLEN: Ok, we are just about at the end of this tape so we are going to stop it and take a break and we’ll pick up with the closing of the days at Entron and into the other end of the business after lunch.
End of Tape 4, Side A
ALLEN: Ed Whitney on Friday afternoon the 26th of February, 1988. Ed we have been talking about the marketing activities at Entron. How long a period of time were you president of Entron?
WHITNEY: Well, I was vice president of sales for two years, and I was president of the company for four years.
ALLEN: So a total of six years with Entron.
ALLEN: That ended up in what about 1970 or 1971?
WHITNEY: End of 1969.
ALLEN: And what happened at that time?
WHITNEY: Well the Federal Communications Commission put a freeze on the cable TV industry somewhere around the end of 1969‑1968 which, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, when you cut the market out from under them, they don’t have very much business. And we weren’t structured to go through what you might call a transition period between when the federal government made its mind up to what they wanted to do with the industry until a point where we had to shut down the plant. Now we had competitors including AMECO, Westbury, people who couldn’t survive. Now Jerrold survived it because they merged into General Instruments. The rest of us got plowed under. I mean we simply ran out of business. You can’t run a business without business.
ALLEN: What did the companies try to do to get the Federal Communications Commission to change their mind about the freeze?
WHITNEY: You’re telling me how to deal with the federal government. I am going to tell you one thing, it takes a long time and we didn’t have that time.
ALLEN: Did the freeze come on as a surprise?
WHITNEY: It really did. It really did. It was such an illogical thing. Philosophically it was illogical what the FCC did and, of course, it was not illogical when you analyze the pressure of broadcasting, in other words the whole broadcasting establishment, the National Association of Broadcasters, etc. They laid it on us so bad and they put the political pressure on to the point where the FCC responded to their point of view, not our point of view. Now of course our point of view was good. It’s always good. Theirs was bad. And it’s always bad, right? So the upshot of it was that they prevailed, and when I say “they,” I am talking about all elements that were involved in it. But the main thing is that the FCC put a ban on, not a ban on us, but they put a halt on our development and we couldn’t have the financial resources. We didn’t have the capability of carrying on and going on a long term to try to recover. We just simply had to stop business. They knocked us dead.
ALLEN: So Entron just locked the doors and that was it?
WHITNEY: Well, that was so much more complicated but effectively that is what they did. They shut our business off and we couldn’t do business without business.
ALLEN: So what did you do then when Entron was no more?
WHITNEY: Well, our majority stockholder was the Boston Herald Traveler Corporation, as I told you, and they decided that we didn’t need Entron anymore because Entron wasn’t producing anything. So what do we do with it? We sold it. And that is what they did. They sold it to a company called Spedcor Electronics.
ALLEN: Where were they located?
WHITNEY: Spedcor was in New Jersey. Headquarters in New York, one of the suburbs. I forget the name of it. They bought Entron primarily for the cable systems they were operating, secondarily, the tax losses that they were going to be able to generate by shutting down Entron. So that’s the way the cookie crumbled at that time. I thought personally that there was a way to get Entron going again. But they weren’t interested. They liked the operating systems. They were good and that was the viable assets that they got from buying up the Herald Traveler’s interests in the company. I thought Spedcor was a manufacturer but they made field telephones for the military. They made them in Puerto Rico so we had lots of meetings with those people before they assimilated our problems. We went to the extent of taking our entire factory and putting it, the working process, the inventory, and everything that we had on big trucks. We had five truck loads. That was not a lot, but it wasn’t too bad. The way we packed it was, we put our inventory on the trucks, and then we put the racks that we took the inventory off of in the back of those trucks. They were all identified. So all the people had to do up there would be to take the racks out of the truck when they arrived and stand the racks up and then all the numbers in the inventory would be right there. They dumped it in a big pile in the middle of nowhere out in New Jersey. All of our work that we did to make it easy to transfer all our assets, that is what we had, parts. I was so disgusted.
If you want to hear the humorous part of it, I was still president of Entron when the procedure was going on. When I used to fly in to LaGuardia Field, they sent a Lincoln Continental down to pick me up at the airport. Neat. Take me out, I would go to lunch with the president of that company and we would discuss things. Then he would take me in his Lincoln Continental back to the airport, put me on a shuttle, and send me back to Washington. The last time I went there I called and I said, “I’m in town.” He said, “Hey, catch a cab, come on out.” I knew then that was it. “Catch a cab, come on out.” He wanted me to stay on and I wouldn’t because I couldn’t stand the way they did business. I don’t know how they did business but it wasn’t the way I liked it. So we decided, well, he decided when he didn’t send a limousine for me.
ALLEN: So what did you do then?
WHITNEY: Well I decided I better do something else because I gotta eat. They have kind of a funny saying in the business that if you are an unemployed expert in an area like cable TV, you become a consultant. Then after you were a consultant for a while, you are famous enough or your name is known well enough, you’ll get another job. Well, I became a consultant very quickly. Unemployed president of a company with a pretty good background. And I decided to specialize in the brokerage end of the business because I saw a lot of vast money changing hands. So I became a broker. Now I didn’t know how to be a broker so I joined a firm in Washington, D.C. named Hamilton‑Landis & Associates. If you look back in the history, it is one of the more predominant and best known firms in brokerage. But they were doing primarily radio and television so they decided to open up a cable TV section and they elected to allow me to operate with them in that particular section. I did that for two years in Washington, headquartered downtown again, which you remember I told you earlier that I didn’t want to ever go downtown anymore, but I did. Beautiful offices, beautiful reputation, everything. These people were good and we did all right, but I didn’t like it. I had to cut my commissions. I’m being greedy now. I had to cut it too fine with the houseman that was operating me and the other brokers who didn’t have anything to do with cable TV, but they were radio and television. Whatever I sold was in their territory, I had to deal out of my commission a certain percent to them and had nothing to do with them. None of them did anything, but that was the arrangements. So after two years of that, I went into business for my own self.
ALLEN: Do you recall any of the sales that you completed during that two year broker period?
WHITNEY: Oh yeah, I sold Seneca Falls and Waterloo in New York state.
ALLEN: Why were people selling cable systems at this time?
WHITNEY: For money. The value of the cable systems started up.
ALLEN: With the freeze on, did the value of the cable systems go up then?
WHITNEY: No. I had a plan which was to sell it. See a broker can do it from either end. I can tell you I’ll sell your system, you pay the commission. I’ll find a buyer for your system, you pay me. If somebody comes to me and says, “I’m on a system,” I said, “Ok you got to pay the commission.” It’s that simple. It’s the same thing in real estate or anything else. Nothing different. So I had a seller that was trying to sell this company and he said he would pay the commission. I found a buyer for a number of them, three or four, and this has been the way it has been working. We are already into my brokerage end of it aren’t we? But anyway, you got a buyer and you got a seller, and if they get together you can put them together and woo them or they are going to take care of you, because it’s obvious you have done a service to them, you either produced a product or you produced him for the product. So in my business I work it both ways. I say, “Hey, you pay the commission.” Or I tell the seller, “Hey, you pay the commission,” but we are going to agree on a commission because I don’t work for fun. And it has been relatively successful. I have sold and arranged sales. Very different. You arrange sales you run into you didn’t really do much, you really didn’t sell the system. And my only retort is, “Hey, I brought you to the guy that bought the system.” Now even if I can’t spell his name, I said, “Here he is and he’s paying you and you owe me,” vice versa, you can work it backwards. Very interesting business, I like it, I love it.
ALLEN: So you have been a broker ever since Entron.
WHITNEY: Seventeen years after I left Entron or after I left Hamilton‑Landis. They taught me to be a broker.
ALLEN: Did you start on your own in the Washington area after you left them?
WHITNEY: Yeah. I had my offices operating out of a very magnificent suite in my bedroom, my third bedroom in my home.
ALLEN: So you finally licked the Washington commuter problem.
WHITNEY: All you need in a brokerage business is an address, a telephone, and a nearby airport so you can go there. That’s all you need. Simple.
ALLEN: How did you market yourself as a broker?
WHITNEY: Primarily on my reputation as being rather knowledgeable about the business. After thirty years some of it has got to rub off on you.
WHITNEY: Plus, I found some companies that were…we have what we call a buyer’s list and you got like ATC which has been a known buyer for a hundred million years almost, and you got TCI which is a known buyer and you got all kinds of buyers. I mean you have Scripps‑Howard, any number of companies, big buyer companies. I played the little guys. I took Omnik Communications and I took Solar M3 Systems. In the brokerage business you only have to sell about two systems a year as an individual, which I was, to make a nice living. You are not going to get rich. I sold systems for Omnik Communications. Then there was a new outfit that started up in Pennsylvania in Hershey. I sold them two or three systems and I was successful in selling individual systems around. I sold some down in Louisiana to another start-up outfit. I really didn’t go into the brokerage business as being like an associates or a communications equity or whatever. I liked to specialize in small systems, which I understand very thoroughly, and new buyers, guys trying to get in the business. I was very successful and still am.
ALLEN: You are still doing this now in 1988?
WHITNEY: Oh yeah. It is not hard to do. You just stand there and wait. Find one and sell one. But the trouble is the ones that you find are shrinking to the point where there are hardly any more. These were mom and pop, little nice neat deals, and they had been swallowed up by the big boys. The big boys are eating each other up right now.
Now I don’t have the staff and the facilities to jump in and try to make a deal to sell TCIs, Westinghouse, or whatever. What I am trying to explain to you is, if you have a staff, and you have about ten brokers and you have the computer and all the facilities that you need to be able to just program this thing all the way through, you have got some prospects. Now I don’t have those facilities. I depend on all my old friends in the industry. If you heard about anything, will you tell me and I will see what I can do with it type thing.
So what I’m not is a very rich broker but I have been eating good, really good, because there are those people that don’t trust the big guys and not really interested in selling the big guys and I know most of them because of my thirty years of experience in this business. I know the single operators who are sitting out there now, the mamas and papas and there are very few of them but I know them. So I am not worried about the future because there is a market for those systems. But it is getting tougher. I mean there are fewer and fewer.
ALLEN: Did you at any time along the way get into being an operator yourself?
WHITNEY: Well, yeah. I think a logical question would be, “How come, if you know so much about the business, why didn’t you get into it?” I think the answer is, I am stupid. But I came down here in 1979 to Florida–De Land–where we had a cable system that was owned by TelePrompTer. They had not done their job, they were really poor. But they had franchises in Orange City, now I am going to talk geography for a moment.
ALLEN: Orange City is just south of Daytona.
WHITNEY: South of Daytona, it’s on its way to wherever. And they had a franchise in Orange City for thirteen years and never built one inch of cable. Now I go to Volusia County and I say to Volusia County–Volusia County Courthouse is right here in De Land–“Hey look, how would you like for somebody to come in there and build a cable system in your town for which you, eleven years ago, issued a franchise and from which you did not get a cable system?” They thought that was great.
Then I went down to a little place on the road almost on the St. John’s River south of Orange City called De Bary and that’s in Volusia County. I drove for broke. I said I want a franchise for the whole area. I didn’t have three dollars to rub together but they didn’t care. They wanted somebody to come in and do something, so they issued me these franchises. Now I got the franchises. Orange City, Lake Helen, De Bary. I could have had the whole county of Volusia but I didn’t want it. I didn’t think I could make it with all that but I had enough of it. So I got some investors interested and the next thing you know we built.
But the problem is TelePrompTer owned the system right here in De Land. The minute we got the Orange City franchise they started building before we could get organized properly. Organizing means you got to get on those poles, or otherwise you are not going to be able to economically build another cable system. People that talk about overbuilding cable systems are out of their mind. You know you heard of all these competitive cable TV systems where they are overbuilding each other. There aren’t very many of those because the first thing you’ve got to discover is there is a pole out there upon which you wish to support your cable system. But if there is another guy there, he is already on it. I could go on like this for hours because I know this end of the business so well. Telephone poles–if we looked out here on the highway in front of where we are, most of the poles in Volusia County are Florida Power poles. Now they got their power run on top of the poles, right? Now the next thing that comes down is the cable system and that has got to be 40 or 48 inches under the power. Of course they have got levels of power but this is under the lowest and the least powerful power line that is on there. Then you go down 40 or 48 inches and you got good old cable comes in there. That’s 40 to 48 inches.
Now you come down 12 inches under cable. That is telephone. Good old Southern Bell or whoever. They are 12 inches under you. Now the lowest service allowable is probably in the average of 17 to 18 feet. So you take and you push telephone down cause you have to make room. You push them down and now they are 15 feet above the ground. Somebody has got to buy a new telephone pole and guess who it is. It’s the cable guy that pushed them down.
Now here comes another guy that is going to overbuild you. Beautiful. So he has got to come in. Now you are first on the pole. So he has got to go under you. Then he has to push the telephone down farther and he is going to buy a gillion poles because those people don’t sell poles cheap. I’m telling you just a simple 35 foot pole without any accoutrements will cost you $900 to stick it in the hole. And the beauty of the whole thing for the power and the telephone company is the cable out there has to pay all this. We call it rearrangements. Very neat way of saying, “Hey, if you want on you pay for it.” That’s philosophical I’m talking about, but it’s true. A lot of people will lose sight of the fact. They say, “Gee whiz, you know we ought to go and build another cable system there because if we can put more services on and all that good stuff.” The municipalities that issue the franchises say, “God there is nothing better than competition.”
So what you do is you issue another franchise and you got some idiots to go in there and try to do the thing and really the competition does hurt the existing cable system because people are curious and they are going to jump over and go back so what you got going for yourself in your community is two losers. You got two losers. Neither one can make any money because one of them is taking half of the customers from the other one and they can’t exist on that. Neither can the one that was there before. So you have got lots of losers.
ALLEN: So is this what happened with Orange City and De Bary?
WHITNEY: No. That didn’t happen there. TelePrompTer just jumped on our rear end and built what they should have built. We didn’t have room to go in there and be the underdog, and we wouldn’t do it.
ALLEN: So you got the franchise, but you never really built the system?
WHITNEY: Oh we got the franchise. I can get a franchise here I am quite sure in De Land. I don’t want it. Who needs it? As a matter of fact, we wanted to go north of De Land with our cable system. I went down to the city council and said simply, “I want to go up the highway up here to get north of town where they don’t have any cable.” Oh yeah, man we can give you a franchise. Why don’t you take the franchise to the whole town? I said I don’t want it. I don’t need that kind of business. I don’t have that kind of money and I don’t think it would do the community any good because, obviously, if I did do it and if I had the money, you would have two losers.
ALLEN: So you concentrated your activities in the brokerage area?
WHITNEY: Yes. Well we built the system in De Bary and it is a very, very good system. We built it properly, state-of-the-art, and its got, as of a couple of weeks ago, 1,240 customers. Those customers are paying about $23 or $24 a month average. We sold it to Scripps‑Howard before we even built it. But we designed it and we built it and we did everything that you should do in building the cable system. I would like to take you down there and show you that system. Have you ever seen one?
WHITNEY: Well, we are going to have to take the tour. The cable system is not simple. They are extremely complex. Everybody thinks you put an antenna up out there and you run a wire in the house and you hook it up to TVs and there you have got cable. Not exactly. You have never seen a cable system?
ALLEN: I have never been in the headend, no. Have you been doing anything besides brokering? Have you been doing any consulting work over the past year? What kinds of problems do you find people bringing to you now as a consultant?
WHITNEY: Oh man!! I got one on my desk now that I am working on. They want a rate increase and I have to intervene between the applicant and the authorities. I won’t forget one that Tama, Iowa. Now I am sitting here in Florida and I got some good friends that own systems and they also own a system in Tama. They want a rate increase but the state Public Utilities Commission says we got to have a public hearing on this and all of that. Well they went through all the preliminaries and then he called me up on the telephone and said, (we probably shouldn’t even record this) but he called me up and said, “Look, I want an expert opinion on whether we should get a rate increase or not.” I said, “Well, what do I have to do?” He said, “We are going to arrange a conference call with the man at the Public Service Commission and you and I.” He said, “How much are you going to charge me?” I said, “$100 if I don’t have to go up.” So we got on a conference call and I got the guy from the Public Service Commission and I got the other guy whoever it was. I said, “The man needs it.” The Public Service Commission guy said, “That’s good enough for me”, and the other guy said, “That’s good enough for me,” and the owner said, “That’s good enough for me,” so I made $500 on a phone call.
ALLEN: A phone call but a lot of years of experience to authenticate it.
WHITNEY: Well, we didn’t just say “hello” on the phone. I raised hell with them about all kinds of things. But that is the kind of thing that goes on in the business. The cable TV business is an exotic business, if you want to call it that. But on the other hand, it is a very less understood business than there is. People think that if you stick an antenna up on top of this motel right here where we are sitting and run a bunch of old wires here and there, you get a good TV picture. It’s extremely more complicated. I have a feeling that if you ask an engineer how one of these things works–these cable TV systems–he is going to lose you in about the first four or five sentences with a bunch of language which is technical. I am talking about decibels, about attenuation, about loss, about AGC. You don’t know anything about that, neither do I. I have never learned to speak engineering. An engineer cannot speak the human language when he tries to explain anything. I am telling you this. This is true. They can’t explain it to me, but I understand it. Well, I said to myself, “Ed, some day we’ve got to educate the public about what cable TV does and how it does it in language that everyone of us can understand. Forget the engineer. The only way I can speak cable TV is the language. Everybody has a language. The only way I can speak is in simple terms because I’m simple. And I don’t understand this.”
End of Tape #4, Side B
ALLEN: This is Tape 5 of the meeting with Ed Whitney in De Land, Florida. Ed, we pretty well covered your career in the industry. What we would like to do is kind of a wrap-up, to talk a little bit about where you see the cable industry going, what you see as some of the problems, and perhaps if you would like to talk about any of the people that you worked with in the industry over the years that haven’t been mentioned. You talked about your work with Strat Smith and Bill Daniels. Are there other people in the industry that you would like to share any thoughts about before we go on to kind of doing a little blueskying about where we are going?
WHITNEY: Well, I have worked with so many people in the industry that it would be very difficult for me to pinpoint somebody. I think that when you are in a growing industry and certain people are involved in certain portions of the industry that you are involved in, I am being very philosophical. But, the point is that I can’t pick out, if you want to ask me in ’73 to ’76 who was the guy that was the most dominant and influence on youth I couldn’t tell you. And that goes through, I think it goes through with every aspect of anybody’s career.
ALLEN: Who would you say have been some of the most influential people in the industry? Who shaped the industry?
WHITNEY: Well, number one I think I helped shape it.
ALLEN: Absolutely. That is why we are here.
WHITNEY: But, I am not the first one. I think there were so many neat guys that were involved, and still are, in this industry that it is very difficult to select. We have got in the Pioneers, and that was people back in 1966, they started selecting people that had ten years experience (ed. note – 20 years) in the industry. Now they are up to pretty near 300 I would think. But every year they take in a few selected people. Now these people are selected on the basis that they contributed greatly to the industry. And they did. I happened to be, luckily, in the first grade of the first Pioneer selection group. There were about twenty‑one of us. So I would have to pick through that group, I would have to say that the selection people did a very good job because (not because they did me) but because of the other people they did. They were contributors to the industry and very, very substantial contributors and the following classes or grades or whatever you want to call it in this Pioneer thing you had to have twenty years in the business, you had to have recognition of some sort. It was hopeful that you had been contributing to the associations and the other aspects of the business rather than your own enlightenment or enrichment. But really, if you were to look for a group of people, I would take the first three or four years of the Pioneers selections as being well, I became eligible later as being the real pioneers in this industry. The first two or three years of the selections are the real people that contributed, but there are a lot of people left out.
Now I have always introduced somebody every year to become a Pioneer, and the wisdom of the Pioneer selection committee has never turned me down. In other words, I have always been able to put some guys in. Now the people I put in were the ones that in the background; they weren’t famous. What I am trying to say is we have our own society and we have our own knowledge of people and we have all that which is probably common to a small business of the few people involved in. But we know each other, and so we honor them, so they are people that have had, well I will give you a specific example.
A couple of years ago, I hired a fellow named Frank Nowaczek. And Frank Nowaczek was one of the most astute people. He worked for me when I was running the association (NCTA). That was back in 1957 so the man’s got about 30 years or a little less in the industry. He had been working at Warner Communications and Warner is a big outfit. They have lots of cable systems, and all that good thing, so I put Frank up for being a pioneer and he made it. He was the most qualified guy I know at that time to get it.
The trouble is, unless you are in a position to know about other people in the industry, they are very clannish. The only cable operator in town is the cable operator. He doesn’t have anybody to talk to, so he goes to the state association, or he goes to the national, and he listens and he gets all of his input. But he is lonesome. We send our salesmen out. We’re the most popular people in the world. They go ahead and they could bring gossip from the town up here and the town down there, and they would bring it in and they could gossip. But we are lonesome. We are the only one in town, really. So what are you going to do? How are you going to get a popularity contest going when you are the only one in town? There are so many people that sat there in isolation and did their work and did it beautifully, up to the technology of the moment. They did it and made money and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all; except that I think that the only thing that could possibly bring these people together is the pioneer aspect of the whole deal, which would be recognizing them and then putting them in a group with other people that did the same thing, right? Now with that in mind the Pioneers should be more than the operators right now. In other words, there are so many people that have done so much in this industry that haven’t been recognized.
We got a guy here in De Land, a fellow named Joe Taylor. Joe was the manager way back. I knew him way back, the manager and operator of the system in Ashtabula and Conneaut, Ohio. I brought a buyer up there–that was the first time I met Joe–and we diddle dawdled around and made an offer on it and didn’t get it. But anyway, that was the last time I heard about Joe except Joe came down here and he is the manager now of the Cable Vision’s Industries entire central Florida system. They own–I would hate to guess how much they own–but they love it. They bought the De Land system, they bought everything around here. So Joe Taylor, I met when I was a junior grade myself, and I put Joe into the Pioneers and made it. They took him. I believe very strongly that we are such a lonesome bunch of people really. We don’t have anybody in town to talk to. You can go to a banker and talk to him about money, but you don’t want to talk to him about cable TV.
ALLEN: What do you see as the biggest problems that face cable TV operators in 1988?
WHITNEY: Why do you ask me these little tiny delicate questions that you only have one pinpoint answer? Now I pick the problem with our medium of communication. I am serious about this now. I think we got problems. We got one problem. You see that dish out there? You are not looking at cable TV, you are looking at satellite. You are looking at it in your room right here in this motel. That is one problem we got. The only reason that this isn’t on cable TV is because the local system didn’t get out here on time. So the guy had to buy a dish. That is one problem, these dishes.
You know I never thought much about it. One day I was over at the bowling alley–I went in to check on scores. I’m a Washington Redskins fan you wouldn’t believe, and the game wasn’t on ordinary TV that day. By some coincidence I walked into the bar after looking at the scores and there the Redskins were playing football out in front of everybody like you wouldn’t believe. I said, “Man, where did you get that picture?”
He said, “We got one of these dishes out here and I can get a hundred channels.” Well I said, “I think you picked one good one because I am going to sit right here and watch this game,” which I did. That told me something. See we were shut off from it down here. We couldn’t get it on the network so that tells you something about what you asked me. There are competitive services available.
Now, another thing, I have to think about this for a second. Well the only other part of it is, the individual homeowners can do the same thing that this motel does. And they got smart. I mean the program producers got smart, and they started scrambling and saying that you can’t quite get what you were getting before if you had a dish.
You got a cable that is available and being installed today that is fiber optics. The biggest problem with cable TV is attenuation. In other words, the cable has too much resistance within it to be able to transport the signal a certain distance without amplifying it and amplifiers cost money. They cost money, 400 or 500 bucks a piece. So now what are you going to do? They have got this fiber optics and you can run, I’m not technical, I would venture to say you could run six or eight times as far with this cable than you could with ordinary coax.
Now we got another problem coming up and that is when we get into the super conductors. Which super conductor will carry, if we can figure out how to keep it down around freezing or below freezing, a signal so far that you won’t need any amplifier as long as you got the wires running in. How are you going to keep it cold? Well they are getting closer and closer to being able to do that between my house and your house. So there are several of your problems right there.
But the main problem is competition. I see the videotape sellers and I mean they are all over. They’re in every grocery store, every Handi‑Way. They are taking the programming away from the programming people that are using the cable to get the programs to the home. They are taking away and they are going to do a good job of it. Except the only problem is that the program is not worth a ding‑dong when you start with, so who is going to buy it? Idiots may buy it.
I mean I’m not saying that anybody that is not on the cable is an idiot. I am saying that the quality of programming in this country has gone to the point–now I am talking as a 69 year old man–I’m not talking like a 16 year old kid because they think it’s great. But that is what they are aiming at. I guess we have to end it up by saying, “To each his own.”
ALLEN: Do you think the cable business is a good business to be in though?
WHITNEY: Oh man, look at it from your viewpoint. Let’s say you are sitting up in West Virginia. You live behind a mountain and you don’t have hardly any cable TV at all. Unless it is replaced by some other distribution signal, or distribution of a cable entertainment signal is there to stay. Now my thoughts are, I think these are verified by figures. You have got a certain amount of discretionary money to spend. Say you are going to go to the beer joint to spend a couple of hours and drink a few beers, ok? So you are going to go home, stop by the cocktail lounge before you go home, and spend two or three bucks. Now when times get tough and you have got to be entertained, you won’t go to the movies. You stay home and watch this thing, the TV set. That, in my opinion, makes this business an extremely valuable investment because when the people get poorer they watch more TV, and you can’t argue with that. Can you argue with that?
ALLEN: No, not at all.
WHITNEY: So I am going to tell you that if you want to invest your money, put it in cable because I saw in Meadville, Pennsylvania one time, it’s got to be true, because George Barco–and don’t you say anything against him because he is one of the head tycoons here. They had a flood in Meadville and it flooded part of the town down towards the river, about 700 homes that were flooded. They didn’t lose a TV set. Those people put those TV sets right up in the attic. They didn’t lose a one. Does that tell you something?
Now I guess what I am trying to tell you is that, the lower the income that you got coming in the less you are going to spend on the outside, and the more you are going to stay home and enjoy what you got and that happens to be TV. Is that oversimplifying it?
ALLEN: No, I don’t think so at all. I think that it is very important that people understand that this is not a business that has been, but it is a business that is still going to be.
WHITNEY: Oh definitely, unless they come up with a new technology, and they are working on it, you better be sure, but we worked on it. We started out as a bunch of guys stringing wire around just hooking up TV sets from an antenna on top of a hill. We have grown to the point where we are extremely technical and actually getting more reception on TV and better quality than we did 20 or 30 years ago. We are doing it.
The first TV distribution system had one channel, and that was invented and pushed by RCA. You get up atop a hill in Pennsylvania and run a wire down there, it is usually twin lead. Twin lead is a little bit different than coaxial, but they could only run one channel down the mountain to town, and that is all the people wanted. They wanted one channel. That is all that was available on top of the mountain. So they invented this one channel amplifier and they put it in twin leads and they ran it down the side of the mountain. They ran it into town and they sold it. They didn’t sell it. They gave it away. Then somebody said, “How come they don’t get two channels?” And then somebody said, “You can’t get two channels, you can’t run two channels simultaneously down adjacent to each other together.” Then they came up with five channels. Let’s have five channels. That can’t be done.
You cannot. See, what RCA had was what we called a strip amp, if it was on Channel 3, it came in on Channel 3.
ALLEN: What was that called?
WHITNEY: Strip amp, single channel amplifier. Now you couldn’t put two of them together because they would interact with each other. They didn’t know how to make them too good. So you put Channel 3 and Channel 4 together and they would screw each other up so bad that you couldn’t get a good picture. So when they came up with what they call five channel equipment, everybody said it is impossible. You cannot run five low band 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, channels you cannot run them adjacent. But we did it and so we came up with the five channel system. I am telling you this for your own information. So then everybody said it couldn’t be done, but we did it and Jerrold did it and several other companies did it, so now we got capability of delivering five channels to your home on coaxial cable on a one cable TV and you better pay me or you won’t get any signal. Right?
Now comes the big thing. The bandwidth between Channel 2 and Channel 6 and take away FM which is 108 megahertz. You start with Channel 7 and you have got to go up to Channel 13. Ok, that is 216 megahertz. How in the world are we going to do this? Well, we did it. We took low band which is 2 through 6, and we took the FM band and we included that, which gave them a little ride there up to 108 megahertz. Then we started out at 174, I think it is, which is Channel 7, and we put high band on which went all the way up to 216 megahertz.
What we did first was we put what we call a low band amplifier. Then we built a high band amplifier and combined them because of the great gap between the low band and the high band. So we combined them with a bridging circuit, broadcast them on the cable, and we ended up with a 12 channel amplifier. Now we could out squelch them, beautiful, a lot of work but we did it. Then we started experimenting around with sub-channels which were lower than Channel 2, and we started messing around with the interim channels between 6 and 7. A lot of room there. Then we went beyond 216 which is channel 13 and went on up the line, and we built amplifiers from that point on to the point that we could get 20 channels using every bit of the space that was on the spectrum and below it. You know where we are now, we are on 400 megahertz which is way out in outer space and we are talking 54 channels. Not only that but we are not too dumb. We got it so that they can come back to us. We got addressable channels. If I haven’t paid my cable TV bill, there is a guy down here in De Land can push a button and turn me off. That is what they call addressable. And if I want to buy a pay TV channel, I push a certain series of buttons and get pay TV by ordering.
ALLEN: There are a lot of things yet to come.
WHITNEY: Of yes, to come. I think if I had to close with a statement, I think cable TV, we are not using public airways. We are using our own conduits so the public has nothing to do with us. In other words, we don’t need and we are not interrupting public by doing what we do, so we are providing a service which is on our own conduit and nobody can bother us for that and everybody is going to appreciate it. Period. And that’s the end of my whole thing.
ALLEN: Well it’s a long way from an Army brat in Texas to the cable industry, but on behalf of the Museum, Ed, thank you very much for a most informative two days of talking.
End of Tape 5, Side A