Chapter 3: The Big Players Arrive
Irving Kahn lived large.
At five and a half feet and roughly 250 pounds, he cut a wide swath when he moved across the floor of a cable convention or into the best seats at a four-star restaurant or heavyweight championship boxing match.
Kahn was one of those improbable "only in America" stories. He was born in 1917, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and nephew of the great composer Irving Berlin for whom he was named. Kahn grew up in New Jersey. While at Boy Scout camp one summer he learned to twirl a baton. The only high school in his area that had a pipe, drum and bugle corps and could use a baton twirler was St. Benedict's Prep, a Catholic school.
Kahn later recalled: "When I got to the point where I was really good, I went down to St. Benedict's Prep in Newark and talked to a guy. I said 'You don't have anybody who can really twirl. How about it?' And he said 'Sure, be glad to have you.' They paid me five dollars a night for every competition. I got really good at it. I won the Eastern State Championship." That opened up the possibility of a scholarship to the University of Alabama.
In 1938 the Alabama football team went to the Rose Bowl. Twirling the baton at the head of the Crimson Tide's Million Dollar Marching Band was the Russian Jewish kid from New Jersey who had won the state championship on behalf of St. Benedict's Prep.
After college Kahn did some PR work for dance bands in New York City, trading gossip for plugs with columnists such as Walter Winchell. He worked briefly for 20th Century Fox Studios before serving in the Army Air Force in World War II, primarily as a public relations man.
After the war he went back to Fox. One day an actor walked into Kahn's office. As Kahn later recalled, "He's got a butcher roll of paper with handwritten lines on it, like cue cards, but on a roll." It was the first TelePrompTer.
Fox didn't want to take on the new business, so Kahn quit in 1950 and formed his own company, TelePrompTer Corp. He sold TelePrompTer service to everybody, from the broadcast networks and movie studios to David Rockefeller and David Sarnoff. He even went to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1952, personally working with Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman to teach them how to use the machines.
Renting out TelePrompTers helped Kahn pay his $1,000 per month tab at New York's swanky Stork Club, the fee for his chauffeur-driven limousine and other basic costs of living, but it didn't make the shareholders of the company rich. Other than the patent, the company had no real assets. Nor was it making much money. In 1959 TelePrompTer Corp. posted a loss of $175,000 on revenue of $3.5 million.
So Kahn looked around for other businesses to enter. His colleague Hub Schlafley had a line on a new type of large-screen television set and Kahn decided it could be used to televise closed circuit events, such as big boxing matches. Kahn signed a deal with heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and his manager, Cus D'Amato, giving TelePrompTer the rights to televise the Patterson heavyweight fights. It also led to Kahn's first run-in with the government. The Attorney General of the state of New York charged TelePrompTer with attempting to monopolize heavyweight boxing and threatened to break up the company. The case was later settled, but Kahn was already looking for other businesses.
Just how he met Bill Daniels is a matter of some confusion. Each claims he called the other. But the best memory may be that of Monroe Rifkin, then TelePompTer's executive vice president and chief financial officer.
While Kahn was fond of lunching with TV stars and entertainment industry moguls at five-star New York restaurants, Rifkin was more of a pastrami-on-rye-at-his-desk kind of guy.
Born in New York, Rifkin had received a degree in finance from New York University, worked for Touche Ross for two years and then been hired as controller of TelePrompTer.
He remembers that one day he was eating lunch at his desk "and this dapper little guy comes up to the receptionist and says 'I want to speak to whoever is in charge.'" It was Bill Daniels. He said he wanted to "educate" TelePrompTer about the opportunities in the cable business.
Since Kahn was out to lunch, Daniels spent some time in Rifkin's office telling him about cable. Midway through the conversation Rifkin asked, "Okay, so what can these systems be bought for?' Daniels said, 'Three to three and a half times cash flow.' And I said, 'Okay, educate me some more.'"
In August of 1959, Rifkin, who had never been west of Chicago, flew to Denver to see some of the cable systems Daniels had for sale. "I remember I was met at the airport by this gorgeous, statuesque woman with two huge dogs. It was Bill's wife-of-the-moment, Eileen."
Daniels took Rifkin to Wyoming to see the Casper and Rawlins systems and down to Silver City, N.M., to visit a system owned by Bruce Merrill.
Rifkin remembers one system manager who operated out of a dingy office behind a gas station. Rifkin asked him why he didn't have better offices. He said he didn't want everybody in town to know how much money the system was making.
"I flew back to New York City and told Irving we ought to sell everything else and buy cable systems. It was a license to get rich."
TelePrompTer did just that. In December of 1959 it announced plans to buy systems in Silver City and Farmington, N.M., and Rawlins, Wyo., for $747,000. The next month it announced a public offering of stock to raise $2 million to buy another 10 systems, a microwave relay service and a radio station.
Kahn jumped into cable headlong. He made a big splash.
By June of 1960 he was the main attraction at the NCTA convention in Miami Beach where he treated attendees to a live, big-screen, closed-circuit showing of the Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson heavyweight title fight. The event also was delivered to some 25,000 subscribers in 13 cable systems nationwide. Those who watched it were asked to pay a fee of $2 on the honor system.
This kind of event, Kahn told the convention two days later, would be the industry's future. He urged cable operators to sign up to buy a device Kahn had invented called Key TV. The system allowed viewers to interact with the TV set by pushing a set of buttons that activated a recorder on the utility pole outside the house. Servicemen would then collect the data from the recorder and respond to the consumer requests.
Kahn vowed to outbid theaters for first-run rights to movies. He said he would buy the rights to the World Series and charge cable subscribers $2 to watch the Fall Classic. He defended the scheme as good for baseball on the theory that the funds could be used to help struggling minor league teams. Kahn offered to renovate Carnegie Hall in return for the pay TV rights to its concerts. And he predicted that one day cable would be the dominant medium throughout the country, even in its largest cities, even in New York.
Meanwhile, Rifkin was slogging through the dusty towns of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, buying up small systems. He set up an operating division of TelePrompTer to run the systems, and hired a group of folks to keep track of them, headed by Ray Schneider, who had managed the pioneering system in Williamsport, Pa.
Rifkin and Kahn had a new twist in cable system purchases. Because TelePrompTer was perpetually short of cash, they offered to buy many of the systems using TelePrompTer stock. This was a good deal for many sellers. It enabled the seller to avoid paying huge chunks of the sale proceeds in taxes, to participate in the future growth of TelePrompTer and to convert his stock to cash as needed.
But sometimes Rifkin came across a would-be seller who didn't want stock. Such was the case with a small system in Washington State, just north of the Columbia River.
At the time, the head of TelePrompTer's closed circuit business was a young man named Robert Rosencrans. Rosencrans had come to Rifkin one day and said that if the company ever came across a system for sale which TelePrompTer couldn't buy, he would be interested. Rifkin passed the Washington State deal on to Rosencrans who put together a group of backers to buy the system, laying the foundation for Columbia Cablevision.
Rosencrans was one of several major cable executives who got their start at TelePrompTer. Others who worked for the company in those days included Jack Gault, who later ran the New York City system for Time Warner, and Leonard Tow, a New York business school professor who started Century Communications.
From the time they first met, Bill Daniels had tried to hire Rifkin. And, as Rifkin found out, "Bill doesn't give up." The chief obstacle was Rifkin's wife, who didn't want to leave the East Cost with their three children.
Daniels set about to woo another man's wife. He brought the Rifkins out to Denver for a weekend in the spring of 1963 and arranged a cocktail party at the Denver Country Club so they could meet other couples with young children living in the area.
"He showed us the best of Colorado," Rifkin recalled. "It wasn't all bad." Nor was the promise of an equity interest in the business.
Rifkin left TelePrompTer and came to Denver to head Daniels' cable operating company, "and basically to do everything else." He never went back east.
One of Rifkin's first tasks was to fly to Los Angeles to meet a Canadian businessman named Jack Kent Cooke who had been studying the entertainment business and had concluded he wanted to get into cable. Cooke had made his fortune working with Canadian media mogul Roy (later Lord) Thomson and decided to become a U.S. citizen. He didn't have the patience to wait the normal five years required of most immigrants, so he arranged for a bill to be passed in Congress granting him instant citizenship. It was typical of Cooke's style.
After gaining his citizenship, Cooke plunged headlong into American culture. He became a sports nut, acquiring an empire that eventually included ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball team and the Washington Redskins NFL football franchise. When he first moved to the U.S. he rented a home in Pebble Beach, Calif., "that had a number of fine television sets. Although I was too far from San Francisco to pick up the signals direct, I nevertheless enjoyed excellent service. I learned that the owner subscribed to cable television." Cooke looked into the business and like what he saw.
The cable deal Rifkin put together for Cooke involved the purchase of four systems serving 16,000 subscribers in Laguna Beach and Barstow, Calif.; Graham, Tex., and Keene, N.H. The purchase price was $4.6 million. It was one of the largest cable deals ever. Cooke called his company American Cablevision.
"I was amazed at his intelligence," Rifkin said of Cooke, "Particularly his ability to discuss tax, legal and accounting matters. He had the best professional talent he could find. Nothing got away from him." Among those he hired to help him do cable deals were a young attorney named Jay Ricks and Bill Bresnan, the chief engineer of a cable system in Rochester, Minn.
Cooke could be tough to work for. As Bresnan, who later became chief executive of Cooke's cable business, recalled, "Jack insisted on total loyalty and total honesty. But the most important thing for him was the process. Process was more important than results. If you did something the right way and failed, he would back you. If you did something the wrong way, even if you succeeded, he could be difficult."
One day Cooke was at a Los Angles Lakers game. The Lakers were ahead by one point and had the ball with less than a minute to play. They were running out the clock. With just a few seconds left Laker superstar Jerry West took a shot from the corner and sank it, putting the team ahead by three. They ended up winning by three.
But Cooke was livid. He marched down to the locker room and waded through the players -- most of them a foot and a half taller than the diminutive Cooke. When he came to West he looked up, pointed his finger as close to his face as he could reach and read him the riot act for taking a shot that, had it missed and the other team scored, could have cost the Lakers the game. "You dumb son of a bitch," Cooke bellowed at the future Hall of Famer, "learn how to play this game right."
Cooke applied the same standards to his employees. In 1973 his cable company, then the largest in the country, was attempting to cross the one million subscriber mark by the end of the year and had put on a big marketing effort to get there. The public relations director at headquarters had devised a slogan, "A million or more by '74," which was stamped on every piece of mail that went out of headquarters.
Cooke got one of the envelopes and called to find out who had been the source of the slogan. He was delighted. "That's the kind of enterprise we need," he said, and called the employee into Cooke's office for a pat on the back. As the session ended Cooke, almost as an aside, asked: "How do you print the slogan on the envelopes?" The employee answered that it was done with a rubber stamp.
"Oh," said Cooke, "and how much does it cost for a rubber stamp."
"I'm not sure," said the employee. "My secretary bought it."
Cooke's eyes narrowed. "Young man," he said, "that is not the right answer. The right answer is 'Mr. Cooke, I will find out.'"
So the employee made a quick call to his secretary and discovered that the rubber stamp cost $29.
By day's end Cooke had him fired for paying too much for a rubber stamp and, most of all, for failing to pay close enough attention to expenses.
But for those who met his standards, Cooke could be a great boss. Bresnan, who Cooke called 'Willie,' was one. Each had raised himself out of near poverty through sheer hard work. When Bresnan was five, his father, a small town postmaster, died, leaving four young children and their mother who took in sewing to put meals on the table. Bresnan attended parochial school in the days when the nuns were never reluctant to take a ruler to the back of the hand of any young man showing signs of straying from the straight and narrow. Bresnan learned to work hard and to live by the rules, even if the rules sometimes made no sense to him.
To earn pocket money Bresnan raised chickens and fixed radios. After the chicken coop burned down, turning this inventory to toast, he went into radio repair full time.
He entered a technical school in Mankato, Minn., and became a salesman for a Northwest Electronics, a cable distributor. He chose to take a 6% commission and pay his own expenses rather than take a 4% commission that included a per diem from the company. To save money the six-percenters would stay at cheap hotels and drive beat-up cars, but their hunger to make it put them far ahead in the bottom line.
One day Bresnan heard about a new cable system being built in Mankato and arranged to become the distributor for Jerrold Electronics so he could supply hardware to the system. Soon he expanded the business to serve the new system in Rochester which, in 1958, hired him as deputy chief engineer. (Soon after, the chief engineer skipped town, and Bresnan moved into that position.)
In March 1965, Cooke bought the Rochester system and called up the chief engineer. "I hear you're a pretty good engineer," Cooke told the petrified Bresnan. "Why don't you come out tomorrow so we can talk." So Bresnan flew to Beverly Hills where he was met by Cooke's chauffeurdriven Bentley and taken to the best room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Cooke took him to dinner at the Escoffier Room where they were entertained by Cooke's own string quartet. Cooke asked him what he wanted to drink and without waiting for an answer ordered him a Scotch (the first Bresnan had ever had). Cooke asked him what he wanted to eat and without waiting for an answer ordered him the Dover sole, which Cooke had flown in fresh from England.
Although he remembers being scared by Cooke's intensity, by the end of the evening Bresnan had agreed to move to California to become chief engineer for all of the Cooke Cable systems. Within a year he was Cooke's executive vice president, paying as close attention to Cooke's rules as he had to the rules the nuns had enforced back in grade school. He worked for Cooke for over a decade. Thirty years later he would say the man had treated him very well and taught him more than he had learned from anyone else.
Within six months Cooke had gobbled up systems serving more than 50,000 subscribers.
Cooke wasn't the only entrepreneur to become interested in cable during the early 1960s. Others who got their starts during the Kennedy and Johnson years included:
Ralph Roberts, a Philadelphia businessman, who formed a group of investors to buy a system in Tupelo, Miss., laying the basis for what would become Comcast Corp. Roberts bought his system from Jerrold. To run it he hired the Jerrold executive who had handled the sale, Dan Aaron.
Amos B. Hostetter, a 27-year old investment banker recently out of Harvard Business School who ditched the East Coast with a partner named Irv Grousbeck. After pouring over maps of broadcast signals in the U.S. the two settled on a town in Ohio as the best site for a new cable company. They won the franchise in Tiffin, Ohio, on behalf of their newly formed company, Continental Cablevision.
Former NBC vice president Alfred Stern formed a company in 1962, Televents, to purchase 18 systems serving 43,500 subscribers from C.A. Sammons. Carl Williams, who headed the Daniels & Associates operating unit, was named president of the new venture. The purchase price of $10 million was twice as large as any cable deal in history.
Charles Dolan, president of a New York company -- Sterling Information Services -- began to wire New York City hotels to deliver a channel carrying information about city events. He also offered New York Mayor Robert Wagner the chance to use the system to address the many conventions that met in New York. Wagner found the system a great time saver. It was an early example of telecommuting and an early indication of Dolan's keen instinct for the nuances of local politics.
Phone companies also continued to flirt with cable. Southern Bell announced it would no longer make its poles available to cable operators, but would instead offer to build entire cable systems and then lease them back to operators who would handle the programming, marketing, billing and other operations. But the price the telco planned to charge for this turnkey operation was far in excess of what cable operators were used to paying when they built their own plant.
Texas operator Ben Conroy, heading up an NCTA committee on pole attachments, went over the heads of the Bell South folks, persuading AT&T to adopt a nationwide policy of renting poles to cable operators at a reasonable price. But Ma Bell also said she would step up her efforts to market turnkey services at lower prices. The skirmish ended well for the cable operators, but reminded them once again of their vulnerability to the utilities that owned the poles on which cable was strung.
But the biggest news for the cable industry in the early 1960s was the flood of broadcasters into the business. Among the broadcasting interests that entered cable were:
CBS, which became the first network to own a cable system when it bought the system in Vancouver, B.C., in November 1963.
Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. purchased four cable systems and a microwave operation in Georgia for $1.1 million in 1964.
Cox Broadcasting Co. bought its first two systems in 1962. They were Lewiston, Pa. (4,500 subs for $660,000) and Aberdeen, Wash., (9,500 subs for $1.5 million). The latter was bought from Seattle broadcaster J. Elroy McCaw. Cox, under the leadership of J. Leonard Reinsch, then embarked on a rapid expansion plan in the cable industry.
Lucille Buford, owner of Tyler, Tex., station KLTV, bought a 50% interest in
the cable system in Lufkin, Tex.
San Jose, Calif., broadcaster Allen Gilliland announced a joint venture with Jerrold to seek franchises in Monterey and Salinas.
Newhouse Broadcasting in 1964 applied for the cable franchise in its headquarters town of Syracuse, N.Y., and purchased the system in nearby Rome, N.Y.
General Electric Broadcasting formed a cable unit, headed by Douglas Dittrick, to apply for the franchise in its headquarters city, Schenectady, N.Y., and other communities.
Harriscope, headed by broadcaster Burt Harris, purchased systems in Palm Springs, Calif., and Flagstaff, Ariz., from H&B. (When Harris walked in with his $250,000 check as a down payment on the Palm Springs system, H&B officials sheepishly told him that they had sold the system the night before to Jack Kent Cooke, who inked the agreement with H&B president David Bright on a napkin at a Los Angeles restaurant. But Cooke, it turned out, didn't act in the time frame outlined by the napkin deal and Harris got the system anyway.)
With this influx of new investors, the price of cable systems during the first half of the 1960s rose from about 3.5 times cash flow to about 7.5 times cash flow, Daniels estimated. He was in a position to know. His firm handled 80% of the deals during that period.
The business continued to be highly profitable. A study commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission and released in 1964 found the average cable system enjoyed a profit margin of 57%, far ahead of most other businesses, including broadcasting, which was pegged at about 30% margins. Costs for a typical 3,600-subscriber cable system were estimated as follows in terms of a percentage of gross revenues:
Salaries, 13%; pole rentals, 4%; advertising, 3%; maintenance, 2%; franchise fees, 4%; microwave costs, 8%, leaving a profit before interest, depreciation or taxes of 57 cents on every dollar of revenue taken in.
The study estimated that the average system spent $3,500 to $4,000 per mile to build its plant and took in $60 per subscriber per year. Three percent of systems offered one or two channels, 85% offered 3 to 8 channels and 11% offered more than eight.
The NCTA estimated that there were some 1,600 cable systems in the U.S. at the start of 1965, an increase of 200 in just six months. Applications for permission to build systems were pending in another 1,000 communities, the trade group said.
An article in Newsweek noted that since the industry had started only three cable companies had failed. This was a failure rate of one twentieth of one percent, the magazine said, one tenth of the average failure rate for U.S. businesses.
Fueling the growth of cable in the early 1960s was a huge leap forward in cable technology.
Since its birth, the cable industry had been plagued by technological problems. Much of the equipment used to build the first systems was either made by the operator himself or jerry-rigged from equipment manufactured for other purposes. Cable-oriented equipment manufacturers had trouble with first-generation equipment. They also were fiercely competitive and eager to feed a hungry market, leading them to put equipment into the field at times before it had been adequately tested. Even the best equipment didn't always work very well and didn't last very long.
One of the biggest sources of trouble was the coaxial cable itself. The sheath, made of woven copper mesh, was susceptible to leakage of two kinds. Moisture would seep in around the taps and other connections, creating havoc with pictures down the line. Cable operators found it difficult to locate and repair these types of faults. The cable also was prone to signal leakage. As more towns became home to both broadcast and cable systems, the broadcast signal would sometimes leak into the cable, creating a dual signal that would produce ghosting on the customer's screen.
There were a number of attempts to fix this. Gene Schneider, then head of GenCoE., remembered that in the late 1950s a new type of cable, called strip braid, came along "and everybody thought it was just great. It had low loss characteristics and you could space the amplifiers wide apart and a lot of other good things could be said about it."
"But after being up in the air a year or so this cable -- probably due to corrosive effects on the braid-- started to have suck-outs and losses increased tremendously."
Schnieder and his colleagues found that "if you would take something like a baseball bat and drive along with a bucket truck down the alley and start beating on that cable every few feet it would come back in nice shape. So, actually it became sort of standard equipment on all our service vehicles that we would carry baseball bats." Eventually all that cable had to be replaced.
In the late 1950s Phelps Dodge, a large electronics company, began to produce coaxial cable with sheathing made of solid aluminum and a dielectric (the buffer between the core and the sheathing) made of foam rather than solid polyethlylene. This cable was far less prone to moisture damage or to signal leakage than the old coaxial. Soon other manufacturers, including Times Wire, the biggest supplier of coax, were offering similar products. The first cable system built entirely with this new type of cable was George Barco's system in Meadville, Pa.
(Sometimes clever marketing was more important than clever technology. Ray Schneider, manager of the Williamsport, Pa., system and later an executive with Times Wire, remembered how Times Wire president Larry DeGeorge handled the challenge of Phelps Dodge, a much larger company.
DeGeorge started by telling operators that the new Phelps Dodge cable, which was marketed as "semi-rigid," would crack in the winter. Then, Schneider recalled, DeGeorge "comes out with the same product, but he called it 'semi-flexible.' His wasn't 'semi-rigid'; his was 'semi-flexible'! Just that change from rigid to flexible put Times Wire number one in the industry.")
Another major headache for cable operators was the vacuum tubes at the heart of every amplifier and most of the other electronic elements of a cable system. Tubes were fragile and likely to go out if the temperature dropped or if the tubes were jarred or struck. Even in the best conditions they didn't last very long. And they were expensive. Montana operator Archer Taylor recalled that the amplifiers he used in an early system required twelve 6AK 5 tubes in each amplifier. Each tube cost $3.50, "which was big money for tubes."
"We found ourselves changing 12 tubes on each amplifier every three months," Taylor recalled. "That wasn't any good. That wasn't going to work."
In the late 1950s the electronics industry was revolutionized by the development of silicon-based transistors that could do the work of a tube but was much smaller, cheaper and more reliable. A researcher at Westbury Electronics in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., Dr. Hank Abajian, was the first to begin to use transistors to build amplifiers for the cable industry.
Ameco, an equipment manufacturer owned by Arizona cable operator Bruce Merrill, pioneered the development of transistorized all-band equipment. By the mid-1960s all the new systems were using equipment with transistors (called "solid state") and older systems were replacing their cumbersome tube-based electronics with solid-state components.
Another weak link in the cable chain was taps, used to connect the trunk wire on the utility pole to the drop cable that ran into the home and the TV set. Most systems used pressure taps, which essentially cut a hole in the trunk cable so the core of the trunk would be in contact with the core of the drop cable.
Spencer Kennedy Labs made a directional tap, which required cutting the trunk cable in two and then hooking the tap to the two ends. The tap contained a splitter that would feed the drop cable. This device took more time to install than the pressure tap, but was far less prone to leakage once installed. And a single tap of this type could feed more than one home. In the 1960s Charles Clements, a Washington State cable operator, and a group of his colleagues went to the other cable manufacturers -- Jerrold, Ameco, Entron and others -- and persuaded them to get into the business of producing cost-effective directional taps. The development came at a crucial time, just when color television was becoming big.
Prior to the advent of color, some signal leakage was not that big a deal. "People didn't care at that time," Clements said. "That was really before color and it really didn't make much of a difference if you had a few ghosts out there." But for color, he noted, pressure taps were "terrible devices."
Throughout the 1950s a small company based in Atlanta had been manufacturing antenna measurement equipment primarily for the government. Founded by a group of engineers from Georgia Technological Institute, the company, Scientific Atlanta, branched into manufacturing antennas, some of which it sold to the cable industry.
In 1965 one of the S-A engineers, Tom Smith, began to work on a problem many cable systems were having with reception of off air signals. Broadcast signals operating on the same frequency would interfere with each other. A cable system equidistant between two broadcast stations operating on the same frequency could not pick up either one.
Smith, a native of Drew, Miss., had worked in a radio and TV repair shop and knew about this problem cable systems were having. At S-A he developed a new type of antenna, the quadrate channeller, which was able to distinguish between signals on the same frequency coming from two different directions, but pick up only one. He installed the first such antenna on the cable system in Columbus, Miss., owned by Polly Dunn. It worked like a charm and pretty soon S-A was selling the new antennas like hot cakes. It was not the last time S-A would make a splash in the business.
Two years later S-A set another standard, introducing the first transistorized headend signal processor. Jerrold had dominated this business for most of the decade with its Channel Commander line. But when S-A hired a young engineer from RCA named Alex Best, it set him to work almost immediately to design a solid state version.
"I remember it was my first day on the job," Best recalled. "My boss came in and tossed an instruction manual on my desk. 'I want you to design one of these out of transistors,' he said, 'and I want to show it at the NCTA show next year.'
"I said 'Fine, but what is it?'"
By the spring of 1967 Best was ready to demonstrate the first solid state headend signal processor, SA's model 6100. The device worked but was so sensitive it was difficult to install and had to be constantly retuned. "It was temperamental and susceptible to interference," Best recalled. In particular it would get out of tune, pick up adjacent frequencies and mix them with the correct signal.
After a few years on the road visiting hundreds of cable systems to install and then retune the headend equipment,
Best designed a device that helped immensely: the surface acoustic wave or SAW filter. This eliminated many of the problems of the solid state headend signal processor and sent S-A one more step down the cable system from the antenna, where it had started, on toward the consumer's home. It was to end up in a collision with Jerrold.
There were more marvels to come. In February 1962, GT&E demonstrated a technology that, 30 years later, would revolutionize the cable industry once again: the first use of fiber optics to transmit television signals. The system translated traditional television and microwave signals into light waves that were then fed through the fiber optic cable and translated back to traditional analog signals at the receiving end. GT&E said the fiber could carry 160 different television signals compared to traditional transmission modes (primarily coaxial cable) that could carry only 10 signals over long distances. The company estimated it would be five to ten years before the device would be cost-effective and reliable enough to roll out.
Cable systems also began slowly to introduce new services to supplement their broadcast signal lineup. Some systems trained a camera at the headend on a clock, a barometer and a thermometer to offer primitive time/ weather information to their local audience over unused channels. More than one system trained a camera on a fish tank or a street in the community to offer viewers something different to watch. Some provided background music from tapes at the headend to accompany these early efforts at local origination programming.
In 1964 Jerrold introduced another service, allowing customers to hook up their FM radio sets to cable and receive much clearer FM signals off the community antenna. Systems also took the first, tentative steps toward offering local advertising, even if it was just a printed placard propped up next to the fish tank or the clock on a local channel.
All these new technologies and services-- both those that could be used right away and those still on the drawing boards--presented an ever more optimistic picture of cable's future. And that continued to attract the interest of investors. It attracted the attention of competitors and the government as well.
In November 1960 John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States by pledging to "get this country moving again." It didn't take him long to get the FCC moving, although in a direction the cable industry didn't much like.
By 1962 Kennedy had appointed three of the seven members on the commission -- Chairman Newton Minow (who won lasting fame when he termed television a "vast wasteland"), Tennessee attorney and JFK campaign supporter E. William Henry; and Kenneth Cox, the attorney who had written a report calling for regulation of cable when he worked for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee in the late 1950s.
The reconstituted FCC was clearly more regulation-oriented than it had been in the sleepy, laissez faire Eisenhower years. Cox openly called for regulation of cable systems and argued his point that the television industry could not exist while broadcast was regulated and cable was not.
But cable held a trump card. One of its strongest supporters, Rep. Oren Harris (D-Ark.), was chairman of the House Commerce Committee. No legislation regulating cable could pass without his approval, and the FCC needed a new law if it wanted to regulate the industry. Or so everybody thought.
The only leverage the commission had over cable systems was its authority to grant microwave licenses. An increasing number of cable systems were using microwave to import broadcast signals from cities hundreds of miles away. Frequently this meant that cable subscribers in those communities had the choice of watching a given program on the imported stations or on the local station. This infuriated the local stations which had paid syndicators for the "exclusive" broadcast rights to the shows.
By the middle of the decade some 77 microwave systems were carrying broadcast signals across thousands of miles. One of the most ambitious plans was proposed by Cox Cable, which asked the FCC for permission to bring the signals of New York City independent stations and WGN -- the big Chicago independent -- into the Cox cable systems in Ohio and to any other systems along the way that wanted to pick up the signals.
Looking at a map of the areas served by microwave in the middle 1960s it was possible to imagine that one day every broadcast station in the U.S. could be available in every town in the U.S. This thought also occurred to the broadcasters, who stepped up their efforts to regulate cable.
Until 1962 the FCC had granted microwave licenses based on spectrum allocation. The only reason the commission would deny a license was if the signal would interfere with some other communications device. But in 1962 the commission decided it could deny a microwave license if the grant was likely to cause economic harm to a local broadcast station. It picked a case in Wyoming, denying the microwave license application for Carter Mountain Transmission Co., which had applied for permission to import television signals from Denver into Riverton, Wyo. The FCC declared that this would threaten the local Riverton broadcaster, KWRB.
Carter Mountain went to court, but lost when a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the FCC could regulate the distant signals. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.
The issue of imported signals competing with local broadcast stations became front page news briefly in 1964 when a cable system in Austin, Tex., asked the FCC for permission to import distant signals. The local television broadcaster opposed the request, and the FCC voted to protect the station.
The case drew attention because the station was then owned by one Lyndon Baines Johnson, address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.
The FCC vote was 6-0 to protect the local station.
For most of the 1950s and early 1960s broadcasters remained split about cable. The bigger stations really didn't mind the extension of their signals into smaller, surrounding communities. And as more broadcast companies (Cox, GE, CBS Newhouse, Sammons, Westinghouse) entered the business, the debates within the National Association of Broadcasters over cable were more intense and heated than the debates NAB held with the NCTA.
For several years the NAB attempted to negotiate an agreement with the NCTA over cable regulation which both sides presumed would then go to Congress and become law. But each time the two sides neared agreement, one faction or another at the NAB would scotch the deal.
Then, almost overnight, everything changed.
Broadcasters panicked when a group of cable operators, led by Sterling's Charles Dolan, applied for permission to bring cable to the nation's biggest cities.
Cable had always been a creature of small-town America. It had grown up where broadcast signals were weak or non-existent. Later it found it could prosper where there were only one or two local stations by importing distant broadcast signals into the community.
But in the mid-1960s Dolan figured he could make money even in the urban areas where there were many broadcast signals available over-the-air. In some big urban areas, including Manhattan, reception of off-air signals was problematic.
Large buildings blocked the signals, and interference from an increasing array of other communications devices made it difficult for many viewers to get a clear, over-the-air broadcast signal. Rooftop antennas provided a solution, but an unsightly one. Master antennas were practical for some apartment buildings, but not all. This left plenty of fertile ground for cable, particularly if it could offer not only clear local broadcast signals, but also stations from outside the market.
Cable had been creeping closer to the major urban areas for years. In San Diego, for example, by 1965 some 3,500 subscribers were receiving cable service that offered the broadcast stations from Los Angeles.
But in September 1964, the door flung open with a resounding bang when Sterling, with the financial backing of Seattle broadcaster and cable operator J. Elroy McCaw, applied for a franchise to provide cable service to New York City.
The audacious application by Sterling electrified the U.S. television business. Five other companies -- including TelePrompTer and RKO General -- quickly filed competing applications to serve all or parts of New York. As the city began the process of deciding which companies would be granted permission to build, other urban areas also became targets of cable companies.
Triangle Publications filed for a franchise in Philadelphia, and the city began hearings on the issue in February 1965. In Los Angeles, Subscription TV, hoping to recover after its defeat at the polls (see page 33), announced it would use its wires for conventional CATV.
But the most ambitions plans were those of Cox which formed a series of alliances with local newspapers to bid for franchises. In Cleveland it hooked up with the Plain Dealer, in Pittsburgh with the Post Gazette and in Toledo with the Blade.
All this activity did not go unnoticed by the big-city broadcast stations. They hadn't much minded when cable came to the small towns. And they hadn't much noticed when some of their fellow broadcasters entered the business. After all, none of that would really threaten their highly lucrative businesses which had become the major advertising media in most of the nation's largest urban areas.
But when Sterling filed to bring cable to New York it hit the broadcast giant in the toe with a two by four. The howling could be heard from coast to coast.
Within weeks the American Broadcasting Co. (which, like all the networks, also owned big-city broadcast stations) asked the FCC to impose regulations on cable. It was the first formal policy statement about cable a broadcast network had ever made to the FCC. And it wasn't timid.
ABC had been looking closely at cable for several years. In the mid-1960s its senior vice president of advertising and public relations, a young executive named Ed Bleier, had produced a strategic study of cable. The study examined the Los Angeles-San Diego market and concluded that as more stations became available to viewers, audiences would fracture. While the three major networks enjoyed a 95% share of the market nationwide, in San Diego where cable systems were importing stations from Los Angeles, the network share was closer to 80%.
"San Diego was an eye opener for me," Bleier recalled three decades later. "It was clear that audiences, given more choices, would spread out."
Bleier recommended that ABC become a programmer for a wide array of distribution technologies. But his recommendation was ignored and ABC instead moved to quash cable, starting with a petition at the FCC. (Bleier, himself soon joined Warner Communications which was to become a major cable operator and programmer.)
ABC's filing at the FCC urged the agency to establish clear geographic areas in which broadcast signals could be received and to prohibit the export of signals beyond those areas. Only by regulating both broadcast and cable, ABC said, could the FCC "provide for coordinated development of free television and cable." (It was common practice for broadcasters to refer to over-the-air as "television" and cable as something else.)
For the next decade ABC would remain the most rabidly anti-cable of the broadcast networks. (At least this was true in its public pronouncements. At the same time it was bashing cable in public, ABC had hired Martin Malarkey to develop a strategy for the network to enter the business. The plan was never implemented although ABC at one point came close to buying the Televents cable operations run by Carl Williams.)
ABC's opposition to the cable industry would be remembered by cable operators, and would later cause friction in the relationship between the industry and ESPN, which ABC purchased in the 1980s.
Then, in early 1965, a group called The Association of Maximum Service Telecasters, comprised of about 150 big-market stations, formally asked the FCC to bar cable systems from carrying TV signals beyond the Grade B contour (or about 80 miles from the station's signal source). The group also asked the commission to require that all cable systems carry all local TV stations and that cable companies be banned from originating programming.
The smaller stations, which had always viewed cable as a threat, continued their drumbeat. Some used their own stations to promote their anti-cable message. One station in Springfield, Mass., owned by Bill Putnam, was reprimanded by the FCC for carrying anti-cable advertisements without giving cable operators a chance to reply.
These ads stressed the message that broadcast television was "free" television whereas cable forced viewers to pay to watch. This notion persisted that broadcast television was "free." Cable was never able to get across the point that the cost of broadcast television was embedded in the cost of nearly every consumer product. A purchaser of a bar of Ivory Soap was paying for television advertising whether or not he or she watched TV.
With cable, only those who wanted the service paid for it. But the broadcasters ran rings around the cable industry when it came to public relations, and the notion that broadcast was free was deeply embedded in the public consciousness.
Broadcasters also peddled with great success the notion that their business was somehow in the "public interest" because they offered local news and coverage of local events. This message also stuck even though many of the local stations offered very little in the way of original or locally oriented programming. And the broadcasters, while touting their public service, continually resisted efforts by the FCC to impose additional public service requirements on the stations.
The biggest weapon in the broadcasters' arsenal was unstated: their ability to influence the political process. Every politician in America was well aware that Richard Nixon had lost the 1960 presidential election because of the televised debates. Every member of the Senate and the House understood that broadcast television was the most effective means of communicating with their constituents and that an appearance on the local TV news show could send a politician's approval rating careening off in one direction on the other.
Broadcasters rarely, if ever, employed an overt threat of favorable or unfavorable coverage in lobbying politicians. They didn't have to. The power of television was understood. And cable, with no local origination programming to speak of and no presence at all in the major population centers of the nation, could simply not compete with broadcasters on this playing field.
Nor were the cable operators very savvy in their lobbying efforts in the 1960s. While the NAB was headed by affable and well-known former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, later to be an official in the LBJ cabinet, the NCTA was leaderless for almost a year and a half leading up to the spring of 1965. When it finally completed a lengthy search for a new president, filing the post with former FCC commissioner Frederick Ford, the political tide had clearly turned against it.
Finally the scars of the 1960 legislative battle were long in healing. Politicians have long memories. By mid decade there were few Capitol Hill lawmakers eager to rush to the defense of cable and risk getting caught in the same change of mind that had left so many industry supporters stranded and embarrassed when the cable industry abruptly changed its mind about a cable regulation bill debated by the Senate in 1960.
By the spring of 1965 the broadcasters' drumbeat of anti-cable rhetoric began to make an impression in Washington and in the countryside.
To consumers and increasingly to the FCC it began to appear that the cable operators were doing something that, if not illegal, was certainly unethical, even a little dirty.
As Montana cable operator Archer Taylor put it later: "I think the commission just felt we were bad people. They thought we were cheap and dirty people and that we were not professional. We weren't doing things right, we weren't to be trusted."
That image had been created, Taylor believed, largely by the broadcasters. He recalled getting a letter from a broadcast station manager in Billings, Mont., one day that opened "I can't really refer to you people as thieves, because thieves work stealthily at night and you guys work right out in the open."
The idea that cable was harmful to broadcasters was promoted by the coverage in the trade publication Broadcasting Magazine, then the dominant trade publication in the television industry and a major influence in Washington, where it was based and where its publisher, Sol Taishoff, would routinely dine with members of the FCC and key members of Congress.
Although the magazine in general practiced objective journalism, never distorting the facts, it certainly approached things from a pro-broadcasting point of view. One headline in 1964, for example, read "CATV: A Big Problem That's Getting Bigger."
NAB weighed in with a $25,000 study of the impact of cable on broadcast television which found, not surprisingly considering the sponsor, that cable was a bad influence. The study found that where a local broadcast station was forced to compete with signals imported by a cable system it would cost the station anywhere from $9,400 to $20,000 or more a year in lost revenue.
Cable operators fought back. In a speech in Washington in the fall of 1964, Jerrold president Milton Shapp pointed out that of the 12 small market TV stations that had testified at the 1958 congressional hearings about the threats of cable, all but one were still in operation and clearly profitable. Shapp might have saved his breath in the face of the gale of broadcaster rhetoric.
The broadcasters' efforts paid off big time in April of 1965 when the FCC issued a set of rules to govern cable. Reversing its previous position which had held it could regulate only systems that used microwaves, the commission said it had the right to regulate all cable systems. It said such a policy was necessary to ensure that free, over-the-air TV would be available to as many Americans as possible. Cable, it said, was only a supplementary service to broadcast television.
In particular the commission issued the following regulations to:
Forbid cable systems from carrying programs on a distant signal which duplicated the programs on a local broadcast station within 15 days before or after the local station carried the show.
Require cable systems to carry all local stations, including those whose Grade B signals reached the cable system.
Freeze the granting of microwave licenses for systems that were planning to serve major urban areas.
The agency also asked for comments on the following questions:
Should there be limits on how far a microwave signal could carry a broadcast station;
Should the FCC prohibit the practice of leapfrogging in which a cable system imported a signal from a distant city without offering a signal from a community closer to the cable system;
Should the FCC ban crossownership of cable systems and broadcast stations in a single community;
Should broadcasters be allowed to build translator stations to extend their signals into areas beyond the range of their main transmitter.
The impact of the FCC action was immediate. The National League of Cities urged its members to suspend granting any further cable licenses until the impact of the rules became clear.
But if the broadcasters, telephone companies, movie theater owners and antenna manufacturers thought the FCC could stop the growth of cable they were dreaming. They hadn't met Chuck Dolan and Irving Kahn.
By December 1965, the two had won the rights to build an experimental cable system in Manhattan, with Sterling getting the southern half of the island and TelePrompTer everything north of 86th street on the east side and 79th street on the west. Another cable outfit, CATV Enterprises, headed by producer Ted Gralick, won the franchise for the enclave of Riverdale.
The franchise awards came after a bruising political battle and strong opposition from New York Telephone, CBS and Universal Pictures.
Dolan and Kahn, in particular, proved to be masters of the local political scene. Each assembled a stellar cast of New York political heavyweights to press its case. Sterling's team was led by Richard Flynn, son of New York State Democratic National Committeeman Edward Flynn. TelePrompTer's team was headed by New York County Democratic Committee counsel Justin Feldman and attorney and friend-of-the-Mayor William Shea, who would one day lend his name to the home of the New York Mets baseball team.
The two battled down to the wire. Sterling, which had first proposed an installation fee of $60, cut the price to $37.50 only to watch TelePrompTer offer a fee of $19.95.
New York Telephone asked the city's Board of Estimate, which made the franchise decisions, to refrain from granting any awards, contending that construction of a cable system would damage the city's communications systems unless it was built by the phone company and leased to cable operators.
CBS and Universal Pictures both threatened lawsuits charging that the programs they produced and broadcast should not be resold by cable companies without permission from the copyright holders. Each implied that the city, if it granted a franchise, could be liable for copyright infringement.
But none of this deterred Dolan or Kahn. In the end the city granted three experimental franchises, one each to Sterling and TelePrompTer and one to CATV Enterprises.
There were a few caveats. As a condition of accepting the franchise the city insisted that the cable operators:
Charge only $19.50 for installation, $5 a month for service.
Provide free service to city hospitals and police stations, discounted service to other city agencies and charitable and religious organizations.
Take out a $2 million insurance policy to protect the city against any copyright judgments.
Earn no more than a 7% return on investment.
Agree to reduce fees if the city determined that profits were too high.
Agree not to introduce pay TV.
Agree to carry all local TV stations.
Agree not to import any distant signals.
Once again it seemed as if the networks, telcos, politicians and producers had succeeded in throwing the cable operators into the financial briar patch. But Dolan and Kahn weren't deterred. Each was willing to bet the ranch that their system world work. And each would lose the ranch in the process before being proven right.
Dolan promised his system, using some of the wire Sterling had already strung for its hotel guide service, would be up and running within four months. Kahn said his would be right behind. And, they told their investors, they would make money doing it.
The city had estimated that there were about 500,000 homes in Manhattan that could not get adequate television service. If Kahn and Dolan could get only 50,000 of those homes each to sign up it would generate $3 million a year for each of them in revenue. The total revenue for TelePrompTer in 1964 had been just over $3.5 million.
But the real key to the chances for Dolan and Kahn was the federal tax code. By depreciating the cost of their equipment, the two could avoid having to report any profits for years. This would enable them to generate significant free cash flow without having to risk violating the city's ceiling on return on investment.
As Business Week pointed out in an article on the New York franchises "any legal ceiling on return is irrelevant since no system would show a profit until depreciation ran out." That would not occur for almost a decade, and a resale of the systems in the meantime would trigger a renewed depreciation schedule.
But the biggest card in the cable operators hand was something else entirely: color.
Color television in the 1960s had captured the imagination of the nation as completely as TV itself had in the previous decade. Millions of new sets were being sold each year. And the problems of big-city reception that plagued black and white sets were compounded when broadcast stations began to transmit in color.
As Irving Kahn put it to a New York Times reporter: "You ever see a ghost in black and white? You should see one in color."
Color, Dolan and Kahn were betting, would bring in customers by the droves.
And always in the back of their minds was the possibility of pay television, even if they had pledged to the city they would not introduce it into New York. Kahn, after all, had pioneered the use of cable systems to offer prize fights and talked openly about using cable to carry first run movies.
As New York Times columnist Jack Gould put it in December 1964, with 1.2 million homes already wired for cable and millions more on the way, "Dreams of a meaningful box office already in existence begin to take form despite the promises of some community TV operators that such a course never existed in their minds."
It would not be long before Dolan transformed that dream of the home as a box office into something bigger than he or anybody else imagined in that winter of 1965-66 when Sterling began to build the first CATV system in the world's biggest city.
THE GREAT PAY TV EXPERIMENTS
Pay television in the 1960s continued to generate as much enthusiasm and as much opposition as it had in the previous decade. The failure of the Bartlesville, Okla., pay TV experiment in the late 1950s did not quash dreams that one day programming could be delivered to the home so that viewers could pay for what they wanted to watch. RKO General, already a major cable owner, teamed with Zenith Electronics to deliver an over-the-air pay service in Hartford, Conn., and several other companies announced similar plans, both through wired and wireless means.
The most ambitious and widely followed pay TV experiment of the decade was conducted by a California-based company called Subscription TV headed by a former president of the National Broadcasting Co., Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, and backed by R.H. Donnelley Corp.
Weaver planned to wire communities in California, starting with Los Angeles and San Francisco, and to deliver sporting contests, films, plays and other fare that viewers would pay for on an individual basis. The marquee sporting attraction was to be the Los Angeles Dodgers whose games would be offered exclusively on pay TV.
Weaver hired the phone company to build a two way-plant delivering three channels of programming. He raised and spent some $20 million to launch the system which began operations in July 1964.
But Weaver ran into a major roadblock. The theater owners in California were petrified that this new distribution form would put them out of business. Together with a group of California broadcasters and others who felt threatened by pay television, they launched a "Citizens Committee for Free TV" and gathered over a million signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot to outlaw pay television in California.
STV was caught by surprise. Weaver attempted to mount a counter effort, but the backers of Proposition 15 (as the anti-pay TV amendment was called) were effective in persuading the public that if pay TV were allowed to go forward it would soon win rights to the World Series and other events that had been available on free television and would then charge for them. It wouldn't be long, they said, before only the wealthy would be able to watch the World Series.
Weaver was forced to lay off almost 150 employees to raise the money to fight the referendum. But his efforts were too little and too late. When the ballots were counted Californians had voted for the proposition by a margin of almost two to one.
Although Weaver announced his plan to fight the proposition in court, it had a devastating effect, not only on his company but on others around the country as well. Theater owners announced they would mount a similar campaign in any state where pay TV threatened to take off, and several companies with such plans announced they would postpone or abandon them altogether.
It would be another decade before a successful pay TV venture was able to get off the ground. And the person who made it happen would be the same guy who stirred up such a hornets' nest when he applied to wire New York City: Chuck Dolan.
COMING OF AGE: CABLE GETS ITS OWN TRADE PRESS
CableVision Magazine celebrated each NCTA convention with a cover caricaturing industry figures.
One landmark in the development of any community comes when it grows large enough to support its own newspaper. For the cable television community that point came in 1964 with the launch of TV Communications, a monthly magazine published by two brothers: Bob and Stan Searle, of Oklahoma City. The Searles moved the publication to Denver shortly thereafter.
Prior to TVC, as it came to be called, the primary source of news in the industry had been two Washington-based publications: a weekly newsletter called Television Digest and a weekly ad-supported magazine, Broadcasting.
Television Digest covered the entire range of the television business, from production of TV sets to the latest programming ratings. It was one of the first publications in the country to begin to cover cable, almost from its inception in the late 1940s.
Started in 1945 by publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg, the publication was taken over by its Washington editor, Al Warren, in 1962 after Annenberg decided to abandon it because, as he said in a letter to subscribers, "there is not sufficient interest in such broad general coverage of television in the newsletter from enough subscribers to justify continuance."
Annenberg didn't make very many mistakes in his enormously profitable publishing career. This was one.
Under Warren's direction Television Digest covered the cable business with remarkable thoroughness, accuracy and lack of bias. Warren also published an annual directory of the television business, called the Television Factbook, which remains the most thorough and widely used annual directory in the business. It lists, among other things, every cable system in the country with key personnel, equipment used, franchise information and prices charged.
Broadcasting Magazine also paid attention to cable, primarily from the point of view of the broadcasters and with special emphasis on what was happening in Washington where its coverage of the legislative and regulatory process was thorough and accurate. Broadcasting was founded in 1931 by Sol Taishoff who remained its publisher and a key figure in the industry until he died in 1982. Current editor Don West has been with the publication since 1952. The magazine, now called Broadcasting & Cable, is now owned by the Cahners Publishing Division of Reed Elsevier, Inc., which also owns Variety, Multichannel News, and CableVision.
In 1974 two former TVC employees -- sales manager Bob Titsch and editor Paul Maxwell -- launched CableVision magazine, a biweekly, putting together the first issue in the basement of Titsch's home. Within a couple of years it had surpassed TVC and become the industry bible, largely because of the selling abilities of Titsch, the irreverent attitude of Maxwell and the boom in cable around the time the magazine launched.
Maxwell believed that trade publishing should be fun, he later said, and CableVision showed it. At the major trade shows the magazine's cover was a foldout cartoon depicting all the major figures in the business, usually in some kind of theme, such as a Wild West setting. Invariably, Maxwell would portray FCC chairman Dick Wiley with two faces.
Among those working for Titsch in the late 1970s were Washington Bureau chief Brian Lamb and associate publisher Paul FitzPatrick both of whom would go on to head cable television networks.
Maxwell split with Titsch in 1979, returning to the business a year later in partnership with Capital Cities Inc., to launch Multichannel News, a weekly newspaper. TVC, a monthly, had been supplanted as industry leader by CableVision, a bi-weekly headed by former TVC employees. Now Multichannel News, a weekly headed by a former CableVision employee, would supplant it as the industry leader by 1984.
This time the key marketing technique was to position Multichannel as a straight news publication against CableVision's magazine format. This was in a time when news was breaking regularly but very little attention was paid by the mainstream media to cable.
The latest chapter began in 1988 when Thomas P. Southwick, who had been editor of Multichannel News, teamed with Paul Kagan to launch Cable World, a weekly magazine modeled after Time and Newsweek. Cable World was purchased by Cowles Business Media in 1994.
The editors and publishers of the various trades have filled a role in their industry beyond what their titles might imply. Taishoff was at times a more formidable power in the television business than the members of the FCC, with whom he regularly dined at a restaurant across the street from the Broadcasting offices in Washington. Irving Kahn credited Al Warren with educating Kahn about cable. The Searles bought and managed cable systems and played a key role in founding the Cable Pioneers group. Maxwell was a founder of the Walter Kaitz Foundation. And Titsch allowed Brian Lamb to remain on the CableVision payroll while laying the groundwork for C-SPAN.
All served as informal advisors, sounding boards, rumor relayers for key industry players. Most important, they provided a voice for the industries they served. They put into print the ideas, feelings and attitudes of the business. And they served as a conduit for information, especially important in a business where competition between cable systems was minimal and operators were hungry for information.