An Oral History – May 1986
Interviewer – Robert Dudley
|This oral history is significant to the history of Hood County because John G. Campbell recounts his years at Kristenstad, a self-proclaimed utopanian city in southeastern Hood County that existed from 1928-1941.
DUDLEY Let’s start with some family background.
CAMPBELL I was born in Grace City, North Dakota, on December 28, 1926. My father, Alexander Campbell, was one of the early pioneers who came into North Dakota at the turn of the century. My mother was his third wife. He had outlived two wives. One of them froze to death in North Dakota when she and my dad were caught in a blizzard, and the other died of natural causes. I was of the third family, the second of three boys born in North Dakota. Dad and his earlier families were in the road construction business. The boys worked at the company business all through their early life.
When I was six years old, the summer after first grade, Dad decided to give up North Dakota, give up the blizzards and go to Texas. We moved to Texas in 1933, outside the little town of Granbury, on the Brazos River, ninety miles west of the Dallas area.
DUDLEY Your dad came to North Dakota from where?
CAMPBELL From Quebec, Canada. My mother was born in Duluth, Minnesota. I think she was 35 years old when I was born, and Dad was 60. Like I said, it was his third family. My older half-brothers were grown when I was born. My whole family, Dad and my half brothers Arch, Vern, and Cole, were in the dirt-moving and road construction business. My two full brothers followed that line of work when they grew up. I’m the only one who wandered from the fold. One brother still lives in Granbury, my younger brother. My older brother died about twelve years ago from Hodgkin’s disease. He also lived in Granbury at that time.
DUDLEY What are their names?
CAMPBELL My older brother was Chester. Dave is my younger brother. They both lived in Granbury. At one time they both went back to North Dakota to learn the business, the road construction business. They were in business in Granbury until Chester died. My younger brother Dave still lives in Granbury and is still in the dirt business, blacktopping and that type of thing. My mother and father have both passed away. My father passed away on Father’s day, 1951, the day I moved to Mineral Wells, Texas. My mother died about ten years later while I was in Austin.
DUDLEY So, at 66 years of age, approximately, your father decided to start another career in Texas.
CAMPBELL Yes, 66 years old. My mother and father were Christian Scientists and they read a story in the Christian Science Monitor in 1932 (I was five years old at the time) about a colony that was being formed in Christiansted, Texas, which is in the DeCordova Bend, of the Brazos River, just south of Granbury, now called the Pecan Plantation. The story painted a picture of a Utopia in which this man, Christianson, had bought some 20,000 or 30,000 acres, surrounded by the river. It was isolated pretty well from the world except for the one entrance. Later on they built a low-water bridge. In those days the roads weren’t too good, so we were really isolated.
Dad called it a communistic community. It was really a socialistic idea, whereby people would come in, buy a plot of land, and build a house. Then they would work for Christianson in the industry that he was trying to establish on a kind of share-and-share alike basis. They even developed their own money. He tried to establish a charcoal factory, a chair factory, a cheese factory. But all these things crumbled in the Depression. We moved in and Dad had some money, I suppose. He bought the land and built a little house. We moved into it when it wasn’t quite complete. We lived there for five or six years. Then the whole idea went bankrupt during the Depression. Dad bought the land from the first developer (Christianson). He (Christianson) misled everyone about it and didn’t have a good title, so Dad lost the home place. We moved from there to the little town of Tolar, and then to Granbury.
I spent five years in Granbury where I went to high school. That was the latter part of the Depression years. I think we moved to Granbury in 1939, where Dad bought a house for $700. I graduated from Granbury High School in 1944.
DUDLEY Did you have any involvement in radio or that sort of thing when you were in high school?
CAMPBELL Yes, I did. I started working in the local theater at the popcorn machine when I was, I think, a freshman in high school. During my sophomore year, I started running the projectors. Then, all through my junior and senior years, I ran the machines every night. It was a small town and we usually had two showings each evening. We closed on Sunday night, so I had that night off. This way I helped with our living expenses, as Dad was getting on in years. I graduated in 1944 and he died in 1951 at age 84. Fred Wilkerson was the projectionist at the theater at the time. He was quite a radio and electronic buff. I got my first indoctrination into electronics from him. In my senior year in high school, 1944, I joined the Army Air Corps Reserve training program, and I took my physical when I was sixteen. I was sworn in when I was seventeen but wouldn’t go on active duty until I was eighteen. The Army Air Corps had a program much like pre-preflight. Enlistees would go to college until they were eighteen and then went on active duty. That way they had a leg up on the high school graduates. Anyway, I went right out of high school. In the summer of 1944, I went to the University of Arkansas into the Army specialized reserve training program. I stayed there for six months for a crash program in which we got a year’s schooling crammed into six months. We received credits for a full year of college.
I came home to wait to be transferred to active duty. By that time Germany had surrendered and the Army Air Corps began cutting back. They gave me the opportunity to either transfer to the unassigned (I had signed up for pilot training) or take a discharge. I took a discharge and joined the Navy in 1945 to avoid being drafted. I spent one year in the Navy.
DUDLEY So you actually were discharged from the Army and enlisted in the Navy?
CAMPBELL Yes, I was given credit for eighteen months service in the Army Air Corps. We weren’t paid, not even a private’s pay, but we had all of our expenses paid. It was kind of a trial period and some 300 of us went to the University of Arkansas. We were all within two or three months of being the same age, seventeen year olds. Anyway, I got the discharge, joined the Navy and went to San Diego.
While I was in boot camp, the Japanese surrendered. The Navy started winding down, but I got credit for the Air Corps at mustering out time, so I spent exactly, to the day, one year in the electronics branch in the Navy. I ran theater projectors and did electronics repair, sound systems, wire recorders, and other things for training schools.
DUDLEY Did you study electronics in the Army or was that regular college courses?
CAMPBELL I was in an electronics group because I had the experience as a theater projectionist. They had a school that taught one how to run projection machines, etc., but I didn’t go through that. I just took the required tests and was qualified.
DUDLEY The duties were?
CAMPBELL In this group we were doing electronic maintenance. I started home study courses while I was in the Navy and continued these courses after I got out. I completed two or three different correspondence courses. My motive was to get into the theater business when I was released from the Navy, to find some little town and own a small theater. That was my ambition at the time.
I got a job in Clifton, Texas, as a projectionist, for $50 a week, or something like that. Big pay! But it wasn’t too bad for just four hours a night. With Veteran benefits I went to Clifton Junior College, where I graduated in 1949.
I had seen things come and go and one of them was the drive-in theater business. I saw it grow up, and saw that I missed out on it in the small communities where drive-ins were successful. I was sort of biding my time there, deciding what to do. Then in 1950, 1951, when the idea of cable television came along, I decided that cable television really had a future.
DUDLEY When did you buy the radio shop?
CAMPBELL When I was working in the theater, going to college, I also had a radio shop. I continued with it when I finished college. I would work there in the daytime and run the theater at night, trying to make a living. I had two children by then.
My first two boys were born in Clifton, the first one while I was in college and the other just about the time I graduated.
DUDLEY Did you get married while you were in the service?
CAMPBELL I got married, yes, while I was in the service, to a girl from Granbury, my high school sweetheart.
DUDLEY And had two children, two boys?
CAMPBELL We had four children. The two older boys, Ben and Johnny, were both born in Clifton. Then Becki, the girl, and Tom, the younger son, were both born in Mineral Wells. I was still working in the theater, still running the radio shop. I arranged with some dealers there in Clifton to install antennas, selling TV sets for dealers around because it was a deep fringe area, with very little television. You could find spots that would give pretty good reception, mostly on the hilltops and some of the prairies, you can get some pretty good television. I was doing that after I finished Junior College and that is when I saw the article in Radio and TV News (at the time, that was the name of the magazine) on the (Bob) Tarlton’s Lansford, Pennsylvania system.
I just knew this was going to be my future, so I started looking around. I thought a little bit about Clifton, but it was not big enough. So I looked at other areas around the state. Mineral Wells seemed to be the most ideal town for a city of its size for cable because there were the high hills, with people living behind them. Behind the mountain would be a 100 foot tower, somebody trying to get a television picture. And you could go up on the mountain and get a good picture.
I got a copy of a franchise, from Bob Tarlton or someone else, and took it to an attorney in Mineral Wells and had him write it to conform to Texas law. I applied for the franchise to the city, and, within a month or six weeks, I was granted the franchise. And I moved to Mineral Wells.
DUDLEY Were there any thoughts in that community before about cable television or community antenna television?
CAMPBELL No, nobody knew. Well, as an example, I had proposed to put the tower on one of the mountains. Within two or three blocks of the site that I had proposed, where I could get a lease on the land, there was a police two-way radio system and, I think, the power company used it as their main base station. The only opposition to the franchise came from a technician who maintained the two-way radio equipment. He complained that radio transmitters would probably interfere with the television and he would get blamed for it because of the close proximity of the transmitters. He was opposed to the franchise.
I’ll never forget the one commissioner. The City Council was made up of a mayor and two commissioners at the time. One of them said, “Let’s just go ahead and give it to him. I don’t think it’s going to work anyway. What difference does it make?” So they voted and gave me the franchise.
In those early years there was no problem in getting the franchise if you went in and made a decent presentation, because nobody knew what it was or what it was going to be. Other franchises were granted around the state in the next two or three years. Anybody could walk in, just make a presentation, and get a franchise.
Very few of those were built, however, because there were technical problems in a lot of the franchised areas. They couldn’t get a useable signal into the area, so maybe it wasn’t feasible.
It was feasible in Mineral Wells at that time. The three stations that came on the air in Fort Worth and Dallas were operating at low power on short towers. Channels 4 & 8 here in Dallas operated in downtown Dallas off of a 400-foot tower at 25,000 watts, or something like that. Channel 5 was over at Fort Worth.
DUDLEY We were talking about the Dallas stations, the number of stations that were low powered, things of that nature.
CAMPBELL The NBC affiliate in Fort Worth, Channel 5, operated at, as I recall, 25 kw or maybe even less. Channels 4 and 8 both operated from downtown Dallas on short sticks because they didn’t have the microwave facilities to remote. Basically, they had to transmit from their studios. Mineral Wells, being 90 miles from Dallas and 75 miles from Fort Worth, was deep-fringe, especially behind the hill. So it was hard to get a good signal on a home antenna.
DUDLEY How big was Mineral Wells?
CAMPBELL Mineral Wells’ population was about 10,000 to 12,000 at the time. The economy there was kind of up and down because the air base had just closed. But other things took up the slack. I concentrated on the part of town behind the hills and which was the more affluent part of town.
DUDLEY Now, when did you visit Bob Tarlton?
CAMPBELL I called up there and talked to someone, but I don’t know whether or not I talked to Bob. I don’t remember. He told me, or someone up there told me, there was someone in Graham, Texas, doing some cable television work. I was still living in Clifton at the time. I think it was about the time that I got the franchise that I learned of him. I called him and went to Graham.
His name was Brown Walker. He was in the jukebox business. Brown Walker. Everyone got to know Brown Walker, if you had been in cable very long, because Brown was/is a real character. Brown had gotten the franchise from the city, but he had a little different situation. He had about the same size town as Mineral Wells, maybe a little better economics. But he was so far out that he couldn’t get signals. He had put up some big antennas on an existing tower, maybe 200 feet high. He couldn’t get a signal consistent enough for a viable cable system. He was approximately 125 miles from Dallas/Fort Worth.
Mineral Wells was a different situation. I put up a 100-foot tower with stacked yagis on each channel and I received a good, reasonable signal from Dallas/Fort Worth.
DUDLEY But you were using an antenna cut for each?
CAMPBELL Yes, cut yagis. We used four stacks on channel 4 and channel 8 and, I believe, a dual stack on channel 5. Fort Worth was a little closer. I put the first tower on a city lot that I ended up buying for $100, or something like that. I built a little small shack at the base of the tower. The first equipment I bought was some strip amplifiers built by Taco-Plex.
DUDLEY Can you spell that?
CAMPBELL T-A-C-O. Taco was the name of the company. Taco-Plex. And they also built antennas. They were later, I think, acquired by Jerrold for their antenna division. I’m not sure about that. They built an apartment house system which was similar to Jerrold. So, you had a strip for channel 8, a strip for channel 4, and a strip for channel 5, but no AGC. It served the purpose of amplifying the signal, combining them to get it into the single cable that would run down the mountain where we made a connection to the first house.
DUDLEY Now, these amps were at the tower site?
CAMPBELL Yes, at the tower site. It was just an amplifier for each channel. Actually, I started carrying just two channels, 4 and 5. Later on I was able to buy a converter to convert 8 to 2. So I had three channels, channel 2, 4, and 5.
The headend amplifier fed the first houses or cluster of houses. We hooked up about eight homes within two blocks of the headend. And then the next thing was to install a repeater amplifier to expand down the street. We were able to repeat it the first time fairly easy, and the second time reasonably without much problem. But then, all the problems of temperature variations affecting the cable and picture quality.
I took a partner in, a fellow by the name of Don Mitchell. He owned Mitchell Industries in Mineral Wells. Mitchell Industries built two-way radios for airplanes, so he was pretty well established. He provided some of the financing on the initial one hundred connections that we made. I later bought him out.
DUDLEY Well, who is Bill Crawford?
CAMPBELL Bill Crawford was a manger of a Firestone Appliance store. A young fellow about my age at the time, a salesman and what not, a real go-getter, and he thought it was the neatest idea that had come along. He was about the only one who thought so. He came in with me as a partner because I couldn’t find anybody else who was interested. The banks weren’t interested. He was able, and did, provide a little bit of financing.
Then we bogged down. That’s when Don Mitchell came into the picture. He bought Bill Crawford out and provided, I think, about another $15,000 in financing, which didn’t go very far. That was a lot of money in those days and it got us through the first 200 connections.
DUDLEY You started this system without ever having seen another cable system constructed or in operation?
CAMPBELL Yes. Well, there weren’t any around, and I never did go back east.
DUDLEY But not even Tarlton’s.
CAMPBELL Well, they were in operation, but Pennsylvania is a long way off.
DUDLEY He was around and operating, but you never even saw that system?
DUDLEY What kind of cable were you using? Coax or twinlead?
CAMPBELL Well, the cable, you see, I’ve always been a pretty fast study on something new. I find out everything I can. I study. The information that I was able to put together was that the types of cable that were available were RG 11U and RG 59U. From what I could gather, the trunk systems were being built from the RG 11U cables that were developed during the war, mostly for radar. RG 8U was communication cable, the same physical size except it was 50 ohms, about 1/2″ in diameter with a braided jacket. However, there was very little RG 11U available because very little was made or being used. You could buy the RG 8U cable because it was being used on two-way radios and this type thing. RG 11U was pretty scarce, at least from my sources, which was radio parts houses, etc.
I did, however, locate about 10,000 or 12,000 feet of surplus cable. I was told it was used on aircraft carriers. They would lay it out on the decks and run over it with airplanes. It was a regular RG 11U, same specifications except that on top of it they’d had another braided jacket, a steel jacket. It was priced very reasonably. It was a lot of money at the time, but I bought 12,000 feet from Crabtrees Wholesalers, a supplier here in Dallas. That became the main trunk run for the first couple hundred homes, the first two miles of cable.
DUDLEY And the amplifiers were still these apartment house type?
CAMPBELL Yes. I did buy one or two of the Jerrold apartment house amplifiers. It was their apartment house version, not the version they had built for cable television. They redesigned and repackaged for cable television, but I bought the apartment house systems from radio supply houses. The Taco equipment was built for apartment systems also. During this first year, the chief engineer from Taco came down to see what we were doing. We were running at that time through about four or five amplifiers.
I don’t think I’d have ever made it if it hadn’t been for one piece of equipment: a Philco sweep generator that was designed for television repair work; 7008 was the model number. It was a sweep generator with a little 3- inch scope built into it with a marker. You could only look at one channel at a time because the sweep width was only about eight megaHertz. When used with a delay line, we could measure standing wave ratio and line impedance. I’d just lay out rolls of cable and when I couldn’t make it work, couldn’t get signals through it, well, I’d take the amplifiers into the shop and sweep them with the 7008. I could see what was wrong and why I couldn’t get the signals through. When I had ghosts, I determined the reason why by measuring the equipment impedance against the cable. I learned most of this just by trial and error.
At the time there was quite a bit of apartment house equipment available. Blonder-Tongue was building an apartment house system which was all- band. They amplified the low bands and the high bands in basically the same amplifier, which had a lot of gimmicks and gadgets to do the tuning, for just two bands. These were used in some of the early systems, and I bought some of them. However, we had to realign them to make them work in a cable system.
And from those experiences I learned that instead of buying these strip amplifiers, I could build my own. We could get signals through the cable at lower levels than you would with the strip amplifiers which you then could re-amplify at 1,200 feet instead of 2,000 feet and do it in a broadband fashion, just the low band. So I combined all the ideas and came up with a little amplifier with only four tubes that would amplify the low band. This was during the second year of operation at Mineral Wells.
DUDLEY The Mineral Wells system was called a community aerial system, instead of a community antenna system. Is there any reason for picking aerial instead of antenna?
CAMPBELL When I was working on the franchise I had to pick a name. The information from the Tarlton system, and what little other information I had, indicated they were calling it aerial. If you look back in that article, you will note they talked about a community aerial, not a community antenna as it later became.
At the time aerial seemed more appropriate. I rationalized the fact that aerial means overhead wires. An antenna, you know, is also called an aerial. And that, to me, suited the situation more than calling it community antenna. Well, actually, I didn’t really think much about it. I just picked a name and went with it, and that name was Community Aerial System. And still today the Mineral Wells system is called the Community Aerial System.
DUDLEY Was that a partnership then?
CAMPBELL We incorporated after Don Mitchell came into the picture. After the first year of operation, we weren’t doing too well, and Mr. Mitchell didn’t want to put any more money into it. So, I told him one day, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You’ve got $16,000 invested. (I think it was $16,000.) I’ll just take it over and give you a note and I’ll pay you out in two or three years and give you ten percent interest.” He said, “I’ll take it.” I remember when my attorney, Tom Creighton, looked at it, he said, “John, you’ll never make it.” But I knew we were growing, and we were working, and we were getting customers. I never missed a payment, and I paid him off in two years.
DUDLEY Before we go on to equipment, let’s talk a bit about financing. Installation charges, what were they?
CAMPBELL We charged $95 installation. Some people charged $125. $95 seemed to be a good number. I could do it a little cheaper in Mineral Wells because my initial cost of the tower and antenna was much less. I just put up an antenna and I was in business. I had customers signed up quickly. Well, it was months later that Brown Walker finally built a 440-foot tower; spending $12,000 to $14,000. I thought it was unrealistic to put that kind of money into something like that at the time. Everything associated with Graham, to get any kind of picture that was saleable, was expensive, but a snowy picture was better than no picture at all.
End of Tape 1, Side A
DUDLEY We were talking about financing, about the installation costs of $95. I understand many of the early systems actually used that as their base of financing. Was that the case with Mineral Wells?
CAMPBELL Yes. Well, it was the only means of financing we had. The costs were much, much less per mile, especially the way we built. We just built it piecemeal, extending it one street at a time, hooking up people as we went. We’d wire up one block, hook up five people, get the $95 each, and go buy some more cable. It’s the only way I had.
Well, at 23 I was pretty naive about business and banking. I talked to several bankers and they said, “It sounds like a good idea, but you know it’s a capital loan.” It was something that a bank just wouldn’t take a risk on. Most of the early systems were built from investor financing. There were very few bank loans. Systems just weren’t financed originally, I’d say the first thirty or forty in the state. They were built by private investors, partnerships, or just people who had made investments in them.
DUDLEY What was the monthly charge, do you recall?
CAMPBELL We got $3. I guess that was low. Later on, as we had hooked up a number of people who had paid the $95, we started a pay-out plan. They would pay a small installation of, say, $15-$20 and then pay $7 and something a month in order to pay off the installation. In a lot of cases, we had an appliance dealer who would finance the installation and the TV set and pay us the installation.
We actually got into the television business and sold televisions. I don’t remember exactly what year, 1955, 1956, or maybe 1957, we sold more television sets than all other dealers combined in Palo Pinto County, which is the Mineral Wells county, for about three years running. We sold them mostly to new television buyers who were hooking up on the cable. As we got further into it we got finance companies to handle the financing; they would allow us to put some of the installation charges into the TV set contract.
DUDLEY It was the Community Aerial System that was selling the TV sets?
CAMPBELL Yes. Actually, that came about because we had about three or four TV dealers in Mineral Wells. With about 2,000 potential home sales, to get 500 subscribers would have been a real trick at that time. I went to the dealers and told them that we would put in a trial installation where people didn’t have television sets. They were buying the television set and going on the cable at the same time. Few had an antenna, very few. In that whole area, there were maybe 25 television sets at the beginning in 1951.
So I started working with the dealers. We put installations into the dealers’ showrooms so they could demonstrate the television sets. For a while it worked pretty good.
I found out that some of the dealers would just sell an antenna because they could make money off an antenna; they weren’t making anything on the cable installation. I had about two or three incidents of that happening. Our deal with them was to sell cable when it was available.
But some of them wanted to make it on both ends because you are talking about installations of $150-$200 for an antenna. I told this one dealer, “I can sell television at cost and make money.”
Finally we just went into it. Ken Durant was working with me and we got the RCA line, the Magnavox line, and the Admiral line. And, like I said, in a three-year period we sold more television sets than all the dealers combined. Without that profit, I never would have made it.
DUDLEY Did you have a sales force?
DUDLEY People just bought, you didn’t have to sell?
CAMPBELL When we were stringing the cable, while the guys were working on the poles, I’d go knock on the doors to talk to the people. I’d say we were stringing, wiring the area and when it was ready we would like to hook them up for cable. You know, we are talking the first 200 or 300 connections. The profits from the television made the whole thing work. The cable itself, without bank financing, wouldn’t have made it.
Now, as new franchises were granted, a lot of operators had some opposition from dealers and a part of the franchise agreement specified that the operator wouldn’t be in the television sales or service business. We had no such restriction. Later on, with my other cable systems, I never even thought about getting in the television business, but at the time it was the lifeblood.
DUDLEY Do you recall how many years that initial franchise was for?
CAMPBELL It seems like it was 20 years.
DUDLEY Twenty years?
CAMPBELL Fifteen to 20 years. I know I was there 12 years. Twenty years, they renewed it sometime after that.
DUDLEY Okay. Now you had been modifying equipment in order to make it work. Then you decided to go ahead and start manufacturing your own.
CAMPBELL I got into manufacturing through Mitchell Industries. Mitchell had a plant and was building radio gear, two-way radios, aircraft radios. So I saw the techniques used to build the electronics. At the time I just got parts from him and built a few. When I bought him out of Community Aerial, I just continued.
I learned a lot from him by visits to his plant. Actually, I hired a couple of girls who had worked for him and knew how to do the assembly.
Then I started getting sheet metal shops to stamp out a number of chassis to build metal cabinets, etc. From the experience with him as a partner, I learned something about assembly of electronics.
DUDLEY Who did your design work?
CAMPBELL I did.
DUDLEY So you were designer, plant supervisor and salesman.
CAMPBELL Oh, about everything, yes. A fellow named Kenneth Durant came in with me and worked with me a number of years. He ended up with a small interest in the business. He was very active in the construction and installation.
Later on I spent most of my time building equipment. Once I built a little amplifier that worked out so well that Brown Walker came down, saw what I was doing, and took one back. He said, “Man, this is the greatest thing that I’ve had. It works.” And he said, “Let’s build 100 of them. I’ll put up some money.” So we built 100 of them. I used half of them and he used half of them.
The amplifier’s success was in getting us over that hurdle of cascading the signal through ten or twelve amplifiers. I printed up a little brochure and mailed it to everybody in the cable industry and offered to send them one on a free-trial basis. Pretty soon I was selling them to a lot of people. We ended up having approximately $100 thousand gross sales of amplifier equipment in the second year.
DUDLEY You had a lot of competition them, didn’t you, from national companies, RCA, Blonder-Tongue, Jerrold, and Entron?
CAMPBELL No. I sold a little amplifier for $85. I could build it for about $15 or $16. The parts were maybe $12. There was no jobber or anything, it was direct mail. No one had an amplifier like it.
You see, there were different design concepts. First, Jerrold, which was the big one – and established, had strip amplifiers for channels 2, 4, and 6. They liked to do 6 instead of 5, although they had the guard band between 4 and 5, and they converted hi bands to low bands. All of their initial systems were with three channels and they developed an AGC for each strip Amp that went on the line that helped them maintain signal levels. All of their systems (I can’t recall the exact years, but through 1955,) were, I think, the 3 strip design.
I went to my first cable convention in New York in 1953 and Entron, which was out of Maryland, was coming into the picture with a tube amplifier that would amplify just the low band. It had twelve tubes, what they called a distributed amplifier, where you feed the grids and take off the plates using delay lines and strings of tubes. And it took twelve tubes to amplify at 22- 24dB gain, low band (Channels 2-6).
They made a big inroad into the business in the mid 1950s. I kind of took their lead, but instead of using twelve tubes, I used four. Mine was basically like a strip amplifier except we stagger tuned it and broadened it out to cover the full low band. It went up to a sharp cut off at 90 megaHertz, (it was called megacycles at that time). There was just room enough in there to drop a couple of FM channels in just short of 90 megaHertz. We built some equipment to convert, FM signals to 88-90 mHz. Nobody amplified the full FM band at that time.
Jerrold’s approach to getting five channels was quite different while we were going to adjacent low band channels. Well, everyone (especially Jerrold) said you couldn’t run adjacent channels. But some people, including Entron, said you could. Most of the TV sets didn’t have an adjacent channel trap or, if it did, it wasn’t even tuned. So the adjacent sound always affected the upper adjacent channel. To get by with that, we moved channel 2 down 1 megaHertz, moved channel 6 up 1 megaHertz, moved 4 up the same and got better separation between the channels. So instead of having the normal separation, it would be increased. We got by with that especially by moving 6 up and 5 down, getting into the guard band, 4 up, or maybe leave 5 where it was. You get five channels with very little adjacent channel interference and amplify the whole low band.
Jerrold came out with their K system. The first time I saw it was in Brady, Texas. At the headend, they would set up the individual channels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in strips. Before they mixed them, they’d take the 3 and the 5 and convert it to a sub-band. They’d call it sub-3, sub-5. Then out in the trunk system they would amplify the 2, 4, 6, like they normally did in the three-channel system. They’d also amplify the sub-channels, sub-3, and sub-5, with strips and then at distribution points, in big tin boxes, they would convert the sub-3 and sub-5 back up to regular 3 and 5 and run it to the homes. So at every distribution point they had to do this conversion. It was a very expensive process.
John Threadgill at Brady had this K system installed. He was just having all kinds of problems. We started replacing them with the little four-tube amplifiers, at $85 a lick. Those Jerrold installations were over $500 per station, and now it would cost at least $2,000 for that type of an amplifier. We took all the K systems out and just laid these little amplifiers in that big box. And had better pictures. He eventually changed out the whole system.
DUDLEY Did you set out to design a full line of distribution equipment?
CAMPBELL No. I just wanted to build an amplifier that would integrate with other equipment. We used four tubes with trunk input and trunk output and we used a splitter that gave us four lower level outputs that fed to the homes. It wasn’t until 1958, 1959 that I really got serious about manufacturing. When I sold the system in 1962, I went into full-time manufacturing. I guess it was 1958 or 1959 when we started doing the transistor amplifiers.
DUDLEY But you did manufacture pretty much a full line of tube type equipment starting back in 1955, didn’t you?
CAMPBELL We did some strip amplifiers that we used for FM, but I didn’t pretend to have a headend system. It was basically that amplifier until we started doing some transistor work and then we built, not a full line, but filled in niches where people had needs.
In 1962, I sold the cable system. The company, under the name of CAS Manufacturing, stayed in the same building. It was a building that I owned and I kept the manufacturing right there in Mineral Wells. I started working on other lines of equipment then with the thought of being in the manufacturing business. It was mostly all mail order. We’d design little brochures and mail them. We’d call on people in this area, but that was all. Then in 1963 I got the franchise in Austin.
DUDLEY Let’s stay with 1958 for a minute because that is about the time that you introduced transistorized equipment.
CAMPBELL 1958 is when we started working on it. The tube amplifier was successful to a point and I tried to replace the tubes with transistors. I tried to do the exact same thing with transistors. Texas Instruments had the first transistors that were really successful or usable. That was in 1958, 1959. They were germanium type transistors. Very sensitive to temperature, very low-power devices.
I was continually looking for new transistor devices. We specialized mostly in small cable systems, 12 cascade at the most, and I never did pretend that we could do anything beyond that with the tube amplifiers. We line powered the 24V DC and started experimenting with the amplifier. It was very simple because you didn’t even have to have a power supply in the amplifier. We started out at the headend and put a big power supply there, 24-28 volts, and ran about four or five amplifiers deep. We found out pretty soon we had to do some filtering because of the field induced AC.
DUDLEY The what?
CAMPBELL The AC field from the nearby power lines was induced into the cable and you’d end up with a AC ripple. So we had to filter it, just a little bit of filtering at every amplifier.
But the real reason that the DC didn’t work was electrolysis. With DC, any moisture in the cable or connectors caused the DC to feed across. I wasn’t that knowledgeable or experienced, but after we put it in place we found out that any place with a little bit of moisture or any place that there was an air gap, the DC would start flowing across, building up a carbon path and short circuit, or it would start arcing and create interference in the picture. So we gave that up after the first try and went to AC, 30 volts, and put power supplies in each amplifier.
DUDLEY Then it is transistorized equipment that we are talking about?
DUDLEY You started out with DC, feeding it out over the same line that the cable signal was riding on and that didn’t work. So you went to AC, but you were still sending that out over the same cable.
CAMPBELL Yes. You could just go so far down the cable using 30 volts AC while actually using about 20 volts on the transistors. They were very low-current devices, so we were feeding about four amplifiers/cascade and then a power supply feeding four back. So you had eight amplifiers between power supply points and that was with a very low current. The transistors that came later that pulled more current, you couldn’t get as far, so you just went two amplifiers and fed two back. A lot of that was trial and error. I remember some of the first transistor amplifiers came from Canada, Benco. Remember the name Benco?
CAMPBELL They had a small amplifier that was using a single transistor, separated by approximately 500 feet. Theirs was all DC and I know they ran into the same problems. Well, you’ve got a closed coax cable system, supposedly closed from moisture, but with just the slightest amount of moisture you start getting the electrolysis problem. With the DC traveling one direction, one polarity; with AC it was pretty well immune to electrolysis.
DUDLEY Did you then develop a full line of transistorized equipment?
CAMPBELL In Mineral Wells, we built about three different amplifiers. One we called the trunk amplifier.
Well, the way the industry evolved, Jerrold was always the leader. They always seemed to be good at coming in and taking the market because they had the marketing, the manufacturing, and the expertise.
However, in the early 1950s they gave up the K system pretty quickly and took up the Entron idea of shorter spacing and they came out with what they called the Cascader. It was a tube amplifier similar to what I was building. They would space it much shorter than the strip amplifiers, and they’d run five channels just like everyone did. I tried a transistorized version of this concept. We never met the specifications with the first transistors that you could do with tubes. By ’62, ’63, we were able to do it.
DUDLEY Industry specifications?
CAMPBELL Yes, or whatever the specs, they were pretty loose at that time. Up until 1963 or 1964, my experience had all been in just the low band. When I went to Austin, we knew we had to go at least twelve channels. And twelve channels was a big deal. In Austin, I bought the AMECO system which was the first all-band transistor amplifier – twelve channels. By then Jerrold had gone to twelve channels, but they were doing it with a distributive type amplifier which took, I think, sixteen tubes to get 20-22dB of spacing with tubes. Theirs was copied after the Spencer-Kennedy design which was a distributive amplifier that, I think, at one time was patented by Spencer- Kennedy.
DUDLEY Tap offs. You designed and sold a line of tap offs, right?
CAMPBELL We never did really market it. I designed or built a little tap real early in the business before I did the tube amplifier. But I never did market it. I tried it a little bit, but it was too expensive to build because I didn’t go into molds and so forth. I had a block machined that would clamp on the cable and made a tap that penetrated the cable. I made a patent search but didn’t pursue it further.
Entron got a patent on a device like that and, later on, Jerrold started making it. A patent suit against Jerrold by Entron went on for quite some time, but they finally ended up losing it because Jerrold did their tap slightly different. Then everybody made that tap.
DUDLEY I recall pictures of one that you made that had a number of different fittings.
CAMPBELL That came later. It was an after market device that would go on any pressure tap. It would screw into the block and provide up to four outlets. This was 1965, 1966. I think we introduced it in 1966. Then the next generation of directional couplers took the place of things like that.
DUDLEY My notes say that Mineral Wells and Middletown, New York, were locations for CAS Manufacturing. Did you have a plant in Middletown?
CAMPBELL No. This is getting ahead of ourselves. In 1969, I sold the company, CAS Manufacturing, to AVNET, the Channel Master division of AVNET which is the Channel Master that you see at the trade shows now, that are into earth stations and so forth. They were big in antennas, home antennas, MATV. They had some plants in Taiwan. Anyway, I sold the company in 1969 and bought it back in 1971.
DUDLEY I do want to get into that whole story later on about the companies. Did you ever manufacture or market cable?
CAMPBELL Yes. You know, when you’re selling a cable system, you might just as well sell all of it. So we were jobbers for a lot of things; headends, taps, a number of things. If we didn’t have it in the line we would buy and put it into our own line. This happened from 1962 on while we were in Mineral Wells, before we moved to Irving. I had our name put on some of the cable. People manufactured cables that we bought and resold. Some of it was drop shipped from the plants in the east to wherever it was used.
DUDLEY Back there in the 1950s (1955, 1957, 1958), were you developing and selling turnkey operations?
CAMPBELL Not at that time. The amplifiers that we had were basically used along with existing equipment for end of the line things, to feed additional houses and things like that. Some small systems used them completely.
DUDLEY In the 1950s, did Community Aerial Systems have any other systems than Mineral Wells?
CAMPBELL No. I made several attempts to get involved with other systems. Austin was the first one I got directly involved in. That and Abilene, along about the same time in 1963, 1964.
A gentleman in Brownwood, Texas, which is over a hundred miles from the Dallas/Ft. Worth signals. No television at all, it was real deep fringe. If someone put up a tall antenna, they’d get maybe a useful picture at night or during the right weather conditions.
His name was Lindsey Dublin and he got the franchise in 1952 for Brownwood. He put up an antenna that was getting better pictures than a person could get on his own home antenna, but not much better. He wired a big portion of the main part of Brownwood. He bought RCA equipment and he used regular RG 11U cables. We went to the 1953 NCTA meeting together. I went down several times to try to help him technically to get his system working. It was kind of a turnkey deal and I don’t recall who did it for him, but he bought RCA equipment, strip amplifiers, high-level amplifiers using the RG 11U cables, single shields.
Two problems: if we turned the signal down too low, we couldn’t get it from amplifier to amplifier. If we turned up to the levels necessary to operate, we interfered with everybody else’s pictures who was trying to get their own. He never got the system to work technically. This was in 1953, latter part of 1953 and he just gave it up, pulled the system out.
I’d have tried to work with it, but he just one day on his own decided, called me and said, “I’ve turned it off and I’m tearing down the cable. Do you want some of it?” We went down and bought some of the cable they had rolled up, and reused it. It was three, four years later that Johnny Andrews got the franchise and built the system in Brownwood when the technology became better, and served it with a microwave feed.
The same thing happened in Kerrville, Texas. Probably a lot of people don’t even know it, but Philco built some cable television equipment. Did you know that?
DUDLEY Did they actually build it or did they market Shapp’s, Jerrold’s?
CAMPBELL No, they built their own equipment. Milt Shapp started using Philco distributors to sell master antenna equipment. Then when Shapp recognized where the cable industry was going, he started marketing direct to Cable Systems.
Philco designed a line of equipment and installed its first installation in Kerrville, Texas. The cable operator was a Ford dealer. I can see his name, but I can’t remember it. He owned the Ford dealership, had a lot of money. Philco and their engineers came down and installed the system for him in Kerrville, ran five or six miles of plant down into the main part of town, from a tower on a nearby hill.
Their concept was similar to Jerrold’s except they said, “We don’t want all this high level of signal with the radiation problems.” So they built a low- gain strip amplifier, with the three strips on the same chassis; channel 2, channel 4, channel 6, instead of having separate individual strips. Each low- level strip amplified one channel. And the cable spacing was approximately 1,200 feet. They never made the system work and pulled it out.
I went down to Kerrville after hearing about it and talked to the guy, but he had already given it up, pulled it out. I don’t think he ever paid Philco for it. He may have paid something down on it, but they came and took the whole system out. Their concept was, “We are going to let the headend and TV set do the AGCing, AGC the headend and let the TV set AGC handle the signal levels, and we won’t have this problem with cross modulation.” Well, they didn’t realize that the cross modulation from the high levels of signal was taking place in the amplifiers and not at the TV set, so the concept just didn’t work.
I think that a lot of the things that I have tried were foolish after you look at it from today’s point of view, but you didn’t know then and they didn’t know either. A lot of people didn’t know until they tried it.
DUDLEY We are up now to about 1958. Up to that time what did you consider yourself? A designer? A cable operator? A businessman? A salesman?
CAMPBELL I was trying to make a living.
DUDLEY Primarily, what were you doing? The design work?
CAMPBELL Well, I did all of it. I spent a lot of time on designing the amplifiers. I hired some engineers in Mineral Wells who had engineering degrees. But they didn’t have the experience that I had or the number of hours that I had put into it or the knowledge that I had acquired, so I didn’t get much help from them.
DUDLEY And much of that was really developed with Mitchell Industries, right?
CAMPBELL Some of it with him. A lot of it was cut and try and research. Like I said, I do a lot of self-study on any subject that I get into. I spent a lot of time researching the problem.
DUDLEY Business, too? Business management?
CAMPBELL No, not as much. Mostly in the electronics area, where it had something to do with technical problems.
End of Tape 1, Side B
DUDLEY I think it would be good to tape a description of the components of a cable system from the antenna, the headend, to the back of the customer’s set. I know there are diagrams.
CAMPBELL At what stage of the development?
DUDLEY Let’s take it from the Mineral Wells point of view.
CAMPBELL The Mineral Wells system was improvised piece-by-piece just to make it work.
DUDLEY Was there a typical system structure with the old tube gear or with the transistorized gear?
CAMPBELL Yes, there was. As I understand it, Jerrold had a basic layout the way that they designed the system, but I didn’t have their equipment. RCA had a similar design; a typical one was Brownwood that was abandoned.
One thing I didn’t mention. After the first go around with the TACO headend, I did buy a RCA headend, a three-channel system from RCA, and installed it as the headend. It was their modified apartment house system.
They used two strips for each channel and an AGC for each channel and then combined the outputs. I used various preamps or anything that was available. TACO had one, Jerrold had one, the apartment house versions. That made up the headend that we operated for four or five years. Because the RCA headend had AGC and was a strip, we took Channel 8 and converted it to Channel 2. Later when we went to five channels, we added Channel 3 out of Wichita Falls on 3, and then when Channel 11, the independent fourth came on the air, we put it on Channel 6. So we ran Channels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Two of them had to be converted. It was a five- channel system until I sold it in ’62.
DUDLEY At the headend, we have the receiving antennas and amplifiers for the channels that we are receiving.
CAMPBELL Preamplifiers that were usually mounted on the antenna.
DUDLEY That’s just to get it down to the shack at the bottom and then run down the mountain?
CAMPBELL Yes. Then a strip amplifier for each channel.
DUDLEY Okay. So on a pole you would have an amplifier in what would look like a big mailbox, right?
CAMPBELL The amplifiers that we bought, the TACO, were put in a box 2 ½ feet by 2 ½ feet square setting on the cross arms of a pole. We’d bring the cable in and match them down to RG 59U because they were RG 11U coming in. That was the connectors. Actually, we were using the C connectors in the early years until the F connectors came into use. Later all the equipment that I had or bought had the F connectors.
DUDLEY At each one of those amplifier boxes you had to pay the power company to install power and had to pay for power using some formula?
CAMPBELL At every amplifier location, yes. And they did it on an average per box because they were continuously on. Some of them were metered, some not.
DUDLEY Were you paying pole rights from the very beginning?
DUDLEY To Telco as well as to power companies?
CAMPBELL I approached the telephone company and the power company. The telephone company, early on, came out and did a survey on the first four or five streets that we wanted to wire. This was before I had strung any wires – about mid-1951 – just after I got the franchise. They gave us a bid of $20,000 to clear about three miles of poles, which was completely out of the question. We didn’t have that kind of money.
In the area where we were planning to wire, the power company was usually on separate poles. So I elected to only go on the power company poles first. They had very little make-ready charges and a very small bond. It wasn’t until later, after they had been “burned” four or five years later, that they increased the bonds and the liability insurance.
I had the first contract with Texas Power and Light. I worked with some people in Dallas and got that worked out early on. It was in the summer of 1951. A Mr. Reeding from the power company came out from Dallas and did the field survey for Texas Power and Light. He said to me, “I’m sorry we have to charge you anything for the poles.” But he said, “You know what I think this will evolve into? I think in time, you will have created enough business for us using the electricity for television, by all this, that we will give you free poles.”
I’ve looked back at that statement several times. The power company never was as hard to work with as the telephone company. But I sometimes think of his statement since it evolved in an increase, from the original $1.00 per pole.
DUDLEY Ray Schneider tells that in Williamsport, because of the good relations with the power company, that they frequently (the cable company) would set the poles because they were working with a non-union two- or three-man crew, whereas the power company had union crews.
CAMPBELL Yes, we had that type of thing. A power company estimator would look at a pole and say, “You know, we ought to change that pole anyway.”
And they would change it. I paid nothing for years with the power company, and we didn’t have a contract for four years with the telephone company.
One day they just came by and said, “Look you are on so many poles. We want a contract.” I said, “Bring it to me and I’ll sign it.” I was in that position, I guess – it was five years later. We tried to stay on power poles, but occasionally we hit one of their poles. Sometimes no one knew who owned the pole. We were on a hundred telephone poles, or something like that, when we signed a contract.
DUDLEY We’ve used the letters AGC. Would you define that?
CAMPBELL That’s automatic gain control, which would keep a constant RF signal on the output, regardless, with a varying input. If it dropped too low, you’d end up with a fade and you’d lose the picture into snow, but it would keep a constant output per channel, or fairly constant.
DUDLEY The AGC controls in the early systems were not really that automatic were they?
CAMPBELL On the headend they were pretty good because the technology came from other equipment; all kinds of AGCs, TV sets, what not. It would lock on to the carrier and would give a fairly constant output within 2 or 3dB, and at that time that was good. Later on, when you started going into adjacent channels, you couldn’t tolerate that.
DUDLEY We also talked about cascading. Could you give us a definition of cascading?
CAMPBELL That ought to be easy. It has always been hard for me to explain to a novice. In repeating the signal when you amplify it once and you go through a length of cable, say 2,000 feet or 1,500 feet, then you amplify it again. I don’t know where that term came from. But that is a cascade: a repeated succession of amplifiers.
DUDLEY So it’s the amplification of a signal that previously has been amplified basically on the same …
CAMPBELL On the same basis and then reamplified on the same basis. To offset the cable loss was the only purpose of it.
DUDLEY That’s the loss over the trunk line, but also the loss of each one of the taps into the home.
CAMPBELL Yes, but on those you don’t repeat. I mean the feeder lines, you don’t repeat those. The cascade is on the trunk line, on the main trunk line.
DUDLEY In addition to attaching the wires to the customer’s house, did you put the installation in the house so that they could put it right up to the set?
CAMPBELL Yes, we went directly to the TV set.
DUDLEY Next I ‘d like to take a look at the chronology of the company, starting in 1951 with Community Aerial System, which is still in existence.
CAMPBELL Yes, the system is still there. I sold it to Bob Magness and one of his partners in 1962. They continued with the name because it was an established name, Community Aerial System. But, you know, it’s under TCI.
DUDLEY Then in 1955, as an off-shoot of Community Aerial Systems is CAS, CAS Manufacturing.
CAMPBELL It was the same company. I just used that abbreviation of the Community Aerial System. We were working out of the same books, the same people, and even the same building. I built equipment before this, but really didn’t market it or sell it to any extent until about 1954, 1955. As for the amplifiers, I sold some of them, just amplifiers, back in 1953, but we billed them out as Community Aerial System.
DUDLEY I want to skip over Austin now because I want to spend some major time on that. How did CAS then evolve into TOCOM?
CAMPBELL When I sold Austin, I was living in Austin with my family. We lived there exactly one year. We decided not to move back to Mineral Wells, but that was where the plant was. I decided to move to the Dallas area. I came to this area and spent some time finding a spot, then moved my family to Irving in 1964 for the school term in September. I started locating here, continuing with the manufacturing in Mineral Wells. I’d go over a couple of days a week. We built a building on the edge of Irving, down by Texas Stadium; however, this was before Texas Stadium was built. We moved CAS Manufacturing to Irving in the spring of 1965.
When I first moved to Irving, I located a five acre site that I contracted to buy. However, I wasn’t able to get the utility companies to give me service on a reasonable time frame, so I relocated approximately one quarter mile away in an Industrial Park. I bought the five acre tract anyway because it was such a bargain. That site is now the playing field of Texas Stadium.
DUDLEY Am I correct, before it became TOCOM, it went through a sale and then you bought it back?
DUDLEY Would you explain that?
CAMPBELL Shortly after I moved to Irving, I incorporated the company during its first year of operation. In 1969, I was approached by Channel Master, a division of AVNET. We merged the company into AVNET, or sold it in a stock swap.
DUDLEY That’s A-V-N-E-T?
CAMPBELL Right. They’re on the New York Stock Exchange listed now as Hamilton- AVNET. They are a large electronics distributor. They still own Channel Master, which is a division of AVNET. They simply wanted to get into cable television.
I had seen by 1968, 1969 that the industry was beginning to grow. There were a lot of big companies beginning to move into it, looking to the future because everyone was talking about the “wired nation.” I had decided that it was better for a smaller company to expand by becoming a part of a bigger company for the capital necessary to expand.
We closed the deal sometime in 1969 and started operating as a division of AVNET. They were really interested in expanding their Channel Master division. I was working with a fellow by the name of Syl Hurlehey. He still heads that division. I saw him two years ago at the (NCTA) convention.
They were willing to develop a line of equipment. They established a R&D lab in Middletown, New York. I spent a week up there, maybe once a month, until we got it established. They brought in engineers who worked for them in Taiwan and some Japanese engineers because they had a lab and a facility in Tokyo, and started developing full lines of equipment.
They were putting quite a bit of money into the company and one day they woke up and saw what was happening to the economy. They didn’t want to be another failure such as LTV. Simon Shibe, who was then president of AVNET, made a decision that any division that wasn’t making money then, had no future with them and would be sold or shut down. We were in that category. No more funding and so forth.
As part of the sale to AVNET, we had an incentive plan whereby if we reached certain goals, we got additional stock. With this shut-down in funding, that was not obtainable. We had done a number of things: they had spent money; we had doubled our building size; we bought a lot of equipment; we had built about six cable systems, Athens, Texas, four systems down in Louisiana, one up in Oklahoma.
I made a deal with AVNET to give them their stock back and some cash, and I bought the company back. I borrowed on the cable systems to pay them off. So it was 1971, after a year and half to two years, we were back as an independent company.
DUDLEY Now was it then Total Communications, TOCOM?
CAMPBELL No. We were a stronger company with a better product line and a number of things and we decided to go public. So on June 30, 1972, we made our first public offering, and the name change took place as that was being prepared. The brokerage people said, “You know, you would be better off with a different name.” We had already developed the TOCOM or the Total Communications concept, so we named the company TOCOM, Inc., mainly for the public image and the public offering.
DUDLEY You were president and CEO?
DUDLEY And that continued for how long? Until the sale to General Instruments?
DUDLEY When was that?
CAMPBELL In June of 1984.
DUDLEY Could we go back now and talk about Austin?
CAMPBELL Yes. Okay.
DUDLEY What got you interested in Austin, Texas?
CAMPBELL I sold the Community Aerial System in Mineral Wells in 1962 to Bob Magness, and he had a partner who came in and ran it. Then later it became a part of TCI. I owned the building that we occupied so we stayed in the building and leased the cable company part of the building. That’s where manufacturing was, in a large commercial building in Mineral Wells. I had wanted to get into some more cable systems with a partner of mine, Tom Creighton, who lives in Mineral Wells. He’s an attorney and he later became a state senator. He was a county attorney at the time. He became interested in cable and helped me with deals. We merged with several opposing groups down in Abilene and took a minority interest in a franchise application in Abilene in 1962, 1963.
Austin was one of the largest cities in the country suitable for cable, but did not have a cable franchise granted until that time. I’m not sure about my dates but, as I recall, it was 1957 when there was an initial effort to establish a cable franchise in Austin. A number of big companies, such as Charlie Sammons, made a try at it. I can’t remember all those companies, but Midwest Video out of Little Rock that owned Bryan, College Station, and a number of good cable towns was an applicant. To protect the market, L.B.J. Company, which owned the TV station there, also applied for a franchise. Midwest Video and L.B.J. Company signed an agreement to merge their efforts. Midwest Video, as Capital Cable (the merged company), would continue to proceed in obtaining the franchise with the L.B.J. Company having an option to buy half interest at such time that the system came into existence.
Then the franchise activity was killed. The City didn’t grant a franchise. I’m sure that was politically motivated because the Johnson family owned the only VHF station in Austin. For five years it sat in that dormant state while cable franchises were being granted in much less desirable towns across the country.
At that time, relying strictly on off-air signals and maybe a microwave relay station to bring in signals, it was one of the most desirable franchises in the country, or THE most desirable, because there were 52,000 people, one station, and it was at least 85 miles to the next two closest stations. The L.B.J. station, Channel 7, was a “cherry picker.” You had to put up a 75-80 foot tower to get anything out of San Antonio, then it was just barely a useful picture.
So, as I said, in 1957 the franchise was laid to rest and it didn’t come up again until the early part of 1963. The owners of the local newspaper applied for the franchise in, probably, the latter part of 1962, and then everyone came in, a lot of people.
Capital Cable renewed its interest in the franchise. This is strictly my opinion, but Mr. Johnson had become vice-president and he no longer had the power that he did as Senator. New management in the family owned newspaper decided to take on L.B.J. It was the first time he had been bucked in that area in a long time, even with radio stations. It opened up for a lot of other applicants, and I just monitored the action.
Tom Creighton, whom I mentioned earlier, was in the State Senate at that time and I’d go down and visit him. Through one of the law firms there, we monitored the situation very closely. It’s unbelievable the way the thing worked out, just unbelievable. This is the latter part of 1963. The franchise fight had gone on all summer long.
Under all kinds of pressure and objections, the council granted Capital Cable the franchise. Then you might say, the shit hit the fan. The newspaper jumped all over them. First it was the local paper, then it was picked up all over the country. Mr. Johnson was still vice-president. The city council was under such pressure that they said, “Yes, if somebody else wants a franchise, we’ll grant one and you can compete.”
Supposedly Capital Cable had a contract with the telephone company. It wasn’t signed, but they said they had a contract. So the newspaper owners said, “We won’t take a franchise because if they’ve got the contract with the telephone company, we can’t compete.”
So, I saw the window and through the contacts I had with the law firm, which was very close to the city attorney at the time, we submitted a one- page letter applying for a franchise. Went to the council meeting and nobody knew me except the city attorney. When they opened the meeting, the first person to talk was this gentlemen, Mr. Brown, representing the telephone company. He was recognized first. He said, “We have re-thought our position and we will sign a contract with anybody the city will.” (The city owned the power company poles so it was a City Power Company and the Bell Telephone Company.) The city said, “We’ll give anybody space on the poles just to satisfy the opposition.” Mr. Brown said, “We have reconsidered and we will do just the same as the city; we will grant anybody a contract that has a franchise.
I got up and submitted the letter. I didn’t even read the letter; the city attorney read it, and the city council voted me a franchise. They didn’t even know who I was. The letter gave my background in that I had CAS Manufacturing and had been in the business ten to twelve years and so forth. They voted to give me the franchise and had a special meeting two days later and officially awarded the franchise. I signed a contract with the telephone company in two days and then it was off to the races.
DUDLEY So the motivation here was not to take on a biggie such as Capital Cable. The motivation was because Austin was such a lucrative market in which to develop cable?
CAMPBELL I thought they’re going to move slowly and I could move fast. I came up with the idea to use the intracity microwave. I was involved in the microwave system, the West Texas Microwave, which came through Mineral Wells. So I was pretty well versed in microwave. I was familiar with Collins equipment and its capability. I had talked to them about available equipment. South Austin, where we could put the first tower, was a city in itself of 15,000 to 20,000 located on the back side of a hill.
In relation to San Antonio, if Capital Cable was going to wire Austin, they’d come across from another direction. They wouldn’t go to South Austin. So I reasoned, “I can start with a cable system in South Austin.”
I was pretty young at that time, 35 years old, and I could move fast. I had the cable on the ground in a week, and I was on the poles as soon as they let me. Within two weeks we were stringing wire. I signed an agreement with Collins to deliver the five channels of microwave. We picked up three signals at San Marcos, relayed them into South Austin, inserted the educational and the local channel there, and microwaved out to four hubs.
DUDLEY That was the intracity link?
DUDLEY It seems to me another unique feature of that system was the intracity microwave where you actually developed five separate cable modules.
CAMPBELL Yes. The first site was the hub in the center of South Austin. We fed that part out of that headend. Then we relayed to a place in Northwest Austin and Northeast Austin. We had four sites, but we just developed three.
DUDLEY Where did that concept come from? Was it from necessity, in order to save cost?
CAMPBELL It was just a means of getting signals point-to-point without having to run cables which involved more time and problems of cascading long trunk lines. That was quite a distance from South Austin to North Austin, about ten miles. Basically, each one was a city. We used the same concept to take signals from the Aledo pick-up site, to Mineral Wells, to Breckenridge. There’s no real difference. When we split the signal coming out, we had to divide power. We’re looking at six-, eight-mile hops, and Collins had no problem designing the system that I wanted. It was all tube equipment and it worked. It took continual maintenance, but it worked fairly well.
DUDLEY So within a year you had 300 miles of cable and a little over 3,000 subscribers.
CAMPBELL Yes, 300 miles and a little over 3,000 subscribers.
DUDLEY That’s kind of phenomenal for that time in the history of cable, isn’t it?
CAMPBELL Well, maybe putting up that much cable. We used self-support on the feeder lines. If I were going to do it again on a long haul, I wouldn’t have used that. We had to get cable in place and people hooked up. We used a new Phelps Dodge trunk cable system. It was a cable that they had developed with an aluminum sheath. We had a lot of problems with it. This is where I used the AMECO trunk amplifiers, and built a line extender that we used. We built that in Mineral Wells, but the trunk amplifiers I bought from AMECO. The headend systems were all at the microwave sites.
DUDLEY What size company did you have at that time?
CAMPBELL When I sold it, we had spent upwards to $2 million.
DUDLEY And you had an engineering force, a sales force, and an installation force?
CAMPBELL Oh, yes, we had a big staff. We were running 18-20 trucks just on construction and installation because we did all our own construction and installation.
DUDLEY The official name of that company was TV Cable of Austin?
CAMPBELL Yes. Incorporated.
DUDLEY And you still owned CAS at this time?
CAMPBELL Yes, as a separate company.
DUDLEY I want to get back to financing in a minute, but in competition with Capital Cable, they had an advantage because of the FCC blackout rule, theoretically. Would you want to elaborate on that a bit now?
CAMPBELL At that time the FCC had no control over what signals you imported as long as you had a way of getting it there. So they would grant a microwave license if you’d agree to non-duplication of some sort. Then we had to protect the local station, Channel 7, our competition. And that is where all the heat came from later on. You had to agree, when you got the microwave license, that you would do non-duplication, that you would not repeat the local channel if they asked you to protect them. They had to give you a schedule of when they’d air a certain program, and if that programming was on an import channel, we would have to black it out. They were cherry picking, which made it more difficult.
DUDLEY Cherry picking means?
CAMPBELL Cherry picking means that they were taking from all three networks. I think they’d use basically CBS, I don’t remember now, but they’d use some NBC, some ABC. Their prime time ran to 11 p.m., so their 10 o’clock news came at 11 p.m. That way they could tape, and repeat another hour of prime time from ABC or NBC. But to get the license we agreed to non-duplications and still it bogged down. I couldn’t get anywhere. Jack Cole was the firm of …
DUDLEY Jack Cole?
CAMPBELL Jack Cole now has his own firm, but he was in another firm at the time and he represented me on the microwave application. He was really gutsy. He represented me regardless of what the political situation was. Normally at that time, you could apply for a microwave permit and, if everything was in order, you’d get it in very short order. We got through all the technical problems very quickly, but the FCC just wouldn’t grant a permit. We came up on a very key date required by the franchise. I went into the city council to make a status report. They’d asked us to make periodic reports and I told them that for some reason the FCC wouldn’t grant the franchise and I felt it was undue political pressure. Jimmy Banks who was with the Dallas Morning News was there. He talked to me later about it and he wrote an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News and was picked up all over the country. In just a few days, we had the permit.
DUDLEY So all during that first year, then, when you were building and signing up subscribers, you had to delete some programming.
CAMPBELL Yes, we set up a clock system. When the restricted program was on, we’d put a slide in that said the program had to be blacked out. See it on Channel 7. We had all the programming because they (Channel 7) were showing it, but it was a nuisance to the subscriber. And sometimes we had problems with the switching equipment and the timing didn’t take place just right and that was an inconvenience to the subscriber. If he was sitting there on Channel 4 watching a program, and he was going to watch the next one, and all of a sudden, wham, it said, “you can’t watch this program until an hour later on Channel 7” – that was an inconvenience to the subscriber.
DUDLEY In addition to the programming on the cable system, you had to watch the entire program schedule of Channel 7.
CAMPBELL Yes, we set the timer on a daily basis. Our Plant Supervisor, who lived nearby, went every morning to the headend and programmed the whole day. And that’s the way it ran that day.
End of Tape 2, Side A
DUDLEY With the Austin cable situation, it would seem that the L.B.J. Company had just about everything going for it. They had financing, they didn’t have the blackout rule. But you moved in, built the cable system, and offered the service. Essentially during that year, they didn’t do much in the way of cable development, did they?
CAMPBELL No. No, I got a feeling that maybe they weren’t going to do anything. I was operating. When I first started working with the city and went in to get maps from the city, pole line maps, I met a young fellow by the name of Herb Jackson. He was the head draftsman and design engineer for the city of Austin and we became friends. I hired him part-time to help lay out the plant. Well, he had drawn every map that the city had. He knew the city. He didn’t even have to go out on the site because he knew every pole, every location, everything. So, we were very quick to do the design.
I also had an “in” later on. Capital Cable came in, got maps of certain areas, and sent them up to Jerrold. Jerrold designed the system for them, sent them back, and Capital Cable applied them to the poles. That took months. Well, I knew which areas they were interested in, I had the inside track, and I would apply for those poles. I had the poles all tied up and Capital Cable couldn’t get on them. I knew that there wasn’t room for two cable systems on most of the poles, probably wouldn’t be enough room for one without extensive work. This was one reason why I thought I had the battle on pole rights won. I knew that all the time. It’s not whether you have the contract, but if you occupy the space. In some cases we put up strand and miles of cable to capture the pole space. It was ruled locally that if you occupied that space first, it was your space. Even though neither one had completed permits.
DUDLEY Now, that’s part of the franchising agreement?
CAMPBELL Not really, but that’s the way the local people were ruling. Whoever had possession of the pole had the rights to that pole and the other one had to take the next position down or up, which usually wasn’t available. It was barely available for one cable system.
I thought for a while that they were not going to build. But all of a sudden they started building and later on I found out the circumstances about that. They forced the city council to call a special meeting, kind of a hearing, stating that if one cable company was on the poles, they could build a bracket horizontal to put the second cable horizontal to the first. And that is what got them into the market. You see, I knew they were coming from a certain point, down the hill, off the tower, and across the river. They had to come up to get into this area. I had all those poles, but they forced the bracket solution.
DUDLEY Capital Cable?
CAMPBELL Yes. Very few of the brackets were used. That was their way to get access to the poles.
DUDLEY Did you take the initiative to go out and try and buy that company?
CAMPBELL No. When I got the franchise, a very good friend, Bob Gibbins, who was in the legislature, was working for Capital Cable. George Morrell was President of Capital Cable. George sent Bob to talk to me immediately and arranged a meeting with him. The very night I got the franchise, I sat down in a meeting with George Morrell. He offered me a lot of different things that we could do together. I guess I wasn’t as smart as I should have been, maybe at that time I should have made some kind of deal, but I didn’t. I was personally bitter towards the local situation.
Later on, as it heated up, I had contacts from the L.B.J. side through people who knew me, and who knew them, to sit down and talk. I guess that would have been smart, but we never explored it. As this thing heated up, through the first part of the Spring of 1964, I had a number of overtures from their company to talk. Do you want to talk about some of the financing?
CAMPBELL This is involved. We had applied for a $300,000 loan from an SBIC in Galveston.
CAMPBELL SBIC, Small Business Investment Corporation. We had been told it had been approved and closing was just a formality. Now, this was prior to the assassination (of John F. Kennedy). Then the SBIC board met formally and turned down the request. The guy who was handling it was dumbfounded, but he told us that there was pressure from somewhere. They just wouldn’t get involved. The SBIC would allow, say, $100,000-$150,000 per venture, so the Houston SBIC had gone to a group in New Orleans to participate with them. It had already been approved in New Orleans.
DUDLEY This is Royal Street Investment?
CAMPBELL Royal Street Investment. When it was turned down in Galveston, Royal Street Investment understood why it was turned down. They said, “We are not going to be intimidated by the vice-president.” They put together another SBIC group and made us the loan. This all happened before the assassination.
They advanced the $300,000 to build out the system. You could build a lot of cable system then compared to what you could do for that kind of money today. They advanced the funds on the basis that it was a good investment. I think they had a 25 percent equity option or a warrant to buy 25 percent of the stock in TV Cable of Austin, Inc. We went on about our business of wiring the best we could.
I had financed a number of things. I had financed the microwave system with Collins; I had financed a lot of the wire with different people; I had financed the amplifiers with AMECO on a lease arrangement.
So, with all the credit plus the new investment, we were able to build a lot of the cable system. Then we began to bog down; you know, run out of funds again. At this point we are getting into the first of 1964. He (Lyndon Johnson) has been president now for several months. They are looking toward the election in November 1964. They made some point-blank offers to us, or at least to me, to try to resolve or to merge to stop the competitive situation.
Tom Creighton, Robert Humphreys, with Royal Street Investment, and I went to Little Rock to meet with George Morrell and his principals. Mr. Hamilton Moses was a real gentleman. He was former head of Arkansas Power and Light. He was the law partner of a senator from Arkansas at that time, his name escapes me. We went there for a meeting. When we first sat down, Mr. Moses, a very congenial gentleman, told us he was ready to retire, but he told us how he’d put together Arkansas Power and Light. It had been through mergers such as this. This was a situation of two companies, either a power company or a telephone company, or cable and it just wasn’t good business to compete in the same market place.
He said, “We’ve got to put a stop to the competitive situation and work together.” This was Mr. Hamilton’s position. And I said, “If that’s your position, there shouldn’t be two cable systems built in the same town, why did you do a competitive overbuild after I already had our system basically built in a large part of Austin?”
He said, “Well,” and pointed to one of L.B.J.’s attorneys, “they told me if we would put pressure and go ahead and build a system, they could cut off your financing anywhere you went, and they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. You got your financing and you built the cable system, and now we’ve got to resolve it.”
We sat down that night with his board of directors that came in for a meeting of the Midwest Video group. We met all of the principals involved. Mr. Moses assured us, on the side, that we had a deal. We had agreed on a dollar figure of what they would pay for our system. Our banker from New Orleans had told us, “We want to make a deal. We want out.”
DUDLEY This is Royal Street?
CAMPBELL Royal Street. So that night we came to terms with Mr. Moses. He said, “I’ll talk to my board this evening and in the morning we’ll have a deal.” We met him for breakfast and when everybody was seated, Mr. Moses said, “Here’s what the deal is.” And it was exactly half of what he had said it would be. I looked at Creighton and Humphreys and someone said, “Let’s go talk.”
We had already checked out of the hotel, had our bags at the check out desk. We didn’t have much to say. This was the worst, rawest deal we’ve ever seen. He just set us up that night and then came back and offered us half. We picked up our bags, called a cab, and went to the airport. Didn’t even go back to the meeting.
About three or four days later, George Morrell called Tom Creighton. He said, “Tom, where did you go?” Tom said, “You embarrassed us. It was just ridiculous.” He said, “Come back and meet again.” I was asked not to go to the next meeting. Tom called me several times from the meeting. Finally there’s a deal. Royal Street said, “We are going to make the deal.” It was a good deal. But I thought the real values on the cable systems were not established at that time, but we signed, or Tom signed for me. Both parties signed a letter of intent that day and with the stipulation that we would not make any news releases until after the election in November.
Everybody (the media) was crawling all over Austin following the JFK assassination. Time magazine people were in there. The Wall Street Journal people were in there practically on a weekly basis. And I had met with Mark Mollenhoff with The Wall Street Journal the day they were negotiating and I told him we had been to Little Rock. But I said, “I can’t release a story.” About fifteen minutes after Tom Creighton’s call telling me of the deal, The Wall Street Journal fellow was back. So I said, “Look, what I told you has to be in confidence.” And he said, “Don’t worry about that.”
The next morning on the front page of The Wall Street Journal was, “L.B.J.’s Company Buys; Washington Sources Tell Us This.” I didn’t tell him the details of it, but just that we had made a deal and that no information would not be released until November.
At the same time, Frank Dennis, an attorney for the L.B.J. group, went to the City Council meeting that morning and gave a progress report on Capital Cable, what they were doing, where they were building, and so forth. And he didn’t know anything about the Journal article. When he got back to his office, they tell me, he heard this, so he ran back down to the city council and tried to explain, telling them, “Yes, we made a deal, but you know …,” on and on. And all that was in stories. But I wouldn’t take interviews because I was told not to. That was part of the deal.
DUDLEY So what really forced the sale was Royal Street saying they wanted out, they wanted to sell.
CAMPBELL They wanted out and they wouldn’t participate any further in lending, in making any more loans. They wanted to take their profit and get out. The SBIC group is regulated through the Small Business Administration. They had pressure. They told us as much. They told me even the days when their attorneys went to Washington, who they saw and a number of things. I learned that through some people who were in the attorneys’ office. A secretary there told some friends of mine what really took place.
DUDLEY So the door on financing was essentially closed after Royal Street decided they wanted out.
CAMPBELL Royal Street was only looking at it from a business standpoint. A merger was in order. I thought at one time Capital Cable never build. And then at that first meeting, Mr. Moses told me why they went ahead. They came in right after us and built the competing cable system and shared the customers.
DUDLEY Now the press at that time said that you really didn’t want to sell. You really wanted to stay in the cable business. Was that because you could see the future developments?
CAMPBELL Yes. The City has doubled in size. Right now they have a cable system of 60,000 to 70,000 subscribers. Then with 52,000 homes, if we got 50 percent penetration, we could have had 30,000 subscribers back in 1964 – 1965.
DUDLEY Was it financially a success for you?
DUDLEY I’ve got the name of Charles Herring of Austin.
CAMPBELL Charles Herring was in the state Senate. His law firm represented TV Cable of Austin me while I was there. They took a minority interest as their fee. We never paid them any money.
DUDLEY I want to take a brief aside here because a couple of times so far in the interview you have said that you’re not a good businessman.
CAMPBELL I don’t think I said that exactly. I never did try to be a businessman.
DUDLEY This 1981 article about TOCOM says, “He’s a brilliant electronics mind and a shrewd businessman.” Another article earlier back in 1976 said, “He’s one of the most imaginative guys in the business.”
CAMPBELL That last statement was by Bill Daniels.
DUDLEY There must have been a great, a good business sense behind just about everything you did to get in on the ground floor and within a year put together not only a technical system but the whole business operation to put Austin on the air.
CAMPBELL Well, I think I have a good feel of what is going, of what’s coming, and what’s future. I hired management to do the organization and so forth. I’ve always done that. I’ve always had a manager in TOCOM. Mike Corboy, who is still with the company, has been there ten years. I think I’ve had the ideas that were good and timely.
The same in Abilene. I just knew what was going to be a good venture. We got into it, Tom Creighton and I. I think we were 12 1/2 percent interest holder together in the Abilene system, and we ended up selling our interest with very little investment and a good profit. Any of the cable starts of any size was a good investment for years and years until we got down to the big city and the urban areas.
DUDLEY So you look at yourself as an engineer who also could see where the cable business was going and you hired the kind of business people to carry it forward.
CAMPBELL I’ve always made the business decisions. I’ve never thought of myself particularly as an engineer because I don’t have a formal education, engineering background, but I’ve understood the industry that I worked in. I understood the problems and could find the solutions. As the technology advanced, I would see the basic concepts of what the “black box” would do and the engineering staff usually made it work. As time went along, the technology in transistors and chips left me behind, but I’ve understood the concept of what the “black box” should do. I’ve always felt I’ve had a knack for knowing how to make something economically. I have some sort of insight. Anybody in the cable business knew that Austin would be a good franchise if it could be developed, and every franchise I got into was good. You just had to have the ability to get a franchise and develop it. That didn’t carry over into the big city franchises.
DUDLEY Did you get into other franchises after Austin?
CAMPBELL We developed a number of franchises when I was involved with AVNET. Those down in Louisiana and in Athens, Texas, and in Henryetta, Oklahoma. I also had an interest in one in Jacksboro and Bowie, Texas with Tom Creighton. My son Ben grew up in the business and started building some cable systems; then he started doing the franchising. He and I did a number of franchises up around Wichita Falls, Texas: Burkburnett, Vernon, Seymour, Electra.
DUDLEY This was family involvement.
CAMPBELL This was family. This came about in the mid to late 1970’s.
DUDLEY Were you using your own equipment or buying whatever you had to?
CAMPBELL No, we used the TOCOM equipment mostly. They were mostly TOCOM systems.
DUDLEY But you don’t own any of those anymore?
CAMPBELL No, we’ve sold all our interest.
DUDLEY When did you get out of ownership, owner, operator?
CAMPBELL We sold the systems about two or three years ago. They were all finally closed out about two years ago.
DUDLEY Let’s get into another area. I’m not putting TOCOM aside except that I can see that it’s going to be a bigger piece than what I’ve got room for here on this tape. Let’s talk a bit about positions and awards and associations. 1960 co-founder of the Texas Cable TV Association, right?
CAMPBELL Let me give you a little background on that. Other than 1953, when I went to New York to the second NCTA meeting, the first CATV meeting that I attended was in Dallas. Following that first NCTA meeting that I went to, Wholesale Electronics, a wholesale house in Dallas, got interested in cable and knew of the four or five franchises in Texas that were granted and were being built. They asked us to come in for a little meeting so that everyone could get together. I knew all the people involved. Wholesale Electronics and its principals invited us to a luncheon in Dallas.
Attending was Brown Walker from Graham, Ray Barnes from Palestine, Lindsey Dublin from Brownwood, and Merle Fraiser from Tyler. Merle started the system in Tyler and later sold it to Glenn Flinn. That group owned it for years. Wholesale Electronics could see cable as a future possibility because they were TACO distributors, they had lines of wire. They were trying to develop some business. We had a session, maybe a couple hours, lunch, and then a couple hours afterward. Nothing ever developed from it as far as an organization, but it was the first cable group to meet in Texas that I know of. One of the Wholesale Electronics principals (John Ludam) today still runs the Company and is on the State Senate.
Let me give you the flavor of Brown Walker. I told you he was a character. Brown started wiring Graham in the latter part of 1951 or 1952. He didn’t get it started earlier, like I did, because I put up a small tower and just started wiring. He had a problem getting the signal, so he was delayed months and months before he started building a cable system.
Anyway, he told us he had the same problem with the telephone company. They wanted a $20,000 bond and all these poles cleaned up. So he set his own poles in the alleys. He set little small 20-foot poles, Class C-7 I think, which weren’t over three inches in diameter at the top, five inches at the bottom. When he made a drop to a house, it would pull the pole over a little bit, you know the long drop across the alley to the house. He said, “I don’t let that bother me. I just go across the street, make a deal, pull it back up, and I’ve got me another customer on the other side of the street.” He was talking about how well these poles were standing up. So that’s Brown Walker, and that’s the way he did business. I’ll never forget a lot of his expressions.
DUDLEY Anyway, the Mineral Wells deal, when was that meeting. 1960, Mineral Wells.
CAMPBELL 1960. We had met, I guess, the year before. The people involved in that were Ben Conroy, who had started the system at Uvalde; Jack Crosby; and Jack Threadgill from Brady. I don’t think Brown Walker came to that meeting. Johnny Mankin, who was the manager of Tyler.
We met in Dallas with the thought of organizing a Texas cable association. I offered to host the first meeting in Mineral Wells at the old Baker Hotel, which was a resort/hotel. I think probably a hundred operators or so attended, some from Oklahoma or people who had franchises. Maybe seventy-five to one hundred people who were either getting into the business or were in the business.
DUDLEY What was the focus of the Texas Cable Television Association?
CAMPBELL Initially, probably the biggest thing was telephone pole problems with the telephone company. That was the major concern, I think, other than getting together and swapping stories. Bill Dalton, then head of NCTA, was there.
DUDLEY Political? Technical? Business? Financing?
CAMPBELL At that time the FCC hadn’t really intervened in any way. Things were cropping up, but the major thing was pole line agreements. And then, naturally, the suppliers showed up at those meetings. They didn’t have a display show at the first one. The next year we went to Amarillo and then to Laredo. Then we started to have the meetings in Dallas at the Marriott on Stemmons and for about eight, ten years running, we had them at that same hotel every year. Most of the time I handled and arranged the convention, exhibits and so forth, with Johnny Mankin.
DUDLEY You were a director and an officer for eight years of the association?
DUDLEY You also served on the NCTA board, is that right?
CAMPBELL I served as the associates’ director. They were allowed one seat on the board and it was by informal meetings that someone would be elected each year.
DUDLEY Can you explain who the associates are?
CAMPBELL The associates were the manufacturers, the group of suppliers to the industry. I served two years.
DUDLEY You have had some comments about the involvement of the NCTA in the development of equipment.
CAMPBELL I think I did later on. While I was on the board, I pushed to get a staff engineer. A lot of us felt the industry should help in the development and some type of standardization, at least not leaving everything to the manufacturers. The NCTA did hire a staff engineer. I was disappointed through the years that all the development was left up to the manufacturers. There was no standardization. By more support from the NCTA, there could have been standardization. Jerrold was the dominant manufacturer then and they were not really in favor of standardization because they wanted to set the standards themselves. I can understand that. So, you had to follow their lead or your equipment wouldn’t work along with theirs. They never were strong leaders as far as development. They were successful “followers” is what I think you call them.
But I always thought that some help should have come from the cable operators, especially the larger cable operators. But it was left up to the manufacturers to develop and sell. The cable operators’ position had always been getting the best deal for the best price and never really contributing. The fact is, the cable operators themselves never really contributed to the technical development of the industry.
DUDLEY When were you on the NCTA board? Late 1960s?
CAMPBELL 1960s, yes.
DUDLEY In 1976, you were given the John Mankin award by the Texas CATV Association. What was the significance of that?
CAMPBELL Johnny Mankin was the executive secretary of the association. He helped form the association. He was the manager at Tyler. He was the only person who stayed on the board for any period of time. It was a volunteer job for a number of years and later on it was a paid position through the early 1980s. The Texas board created an award each year to recognize someone in the Texas cable industry for their contribution to the industry. That’s called the Johnny Mankin Award.
DUDLEY And that was voted by the membership?
CAMPBELL For a number of years, the prior recipients would pick the next one. Later it was done mostly by the board. I was involved for a number of years. Each year I could recommend someone. Then it is a matter of getting support for them. But the final say, I guess, was left with the board.
DUDLEY Stepping back a few years, in 1972, you were inducted into the CATV Pioneers.
DUDLEY What is the significance of that?
CAMPBELL Oh, I don’t know. Just the fact that I’ve been around so long, I guess. The Pioneer Club was organized by Stan Searle, who was the publisher of TVC, the magazine. He got the idea, put together the first meeting and organized the Cable TV Pioneers. I don’t know who picked the first ones. It was basically people who had been on the board, in the inner circle of the NCTA, the group elected themselves to be the first Pioneers. They are the ones who happened to be there and known to be active, I think, more in NCTA than anything. I was told several years after it was organized that my name came up every time, but somebody else was a little more popular, or something like that. A lot of the early Pioneers came into the business in the late 1950’s. But it is immaterial to me. I think it’s a good organization. It gives us time to get together once a year, have a ball, and get drunk together.
DUDLEY But there is some significance now with the Museum.
CAMPBELL Very much so. The Pioneers are supporting the Museum and that’s really good for the industry. Other than that, it was more of a social meeting. Each year a few new members have been brought in.
End of Tape 2, Side B
DUDLEY Let’s pick up with the development of CAS and TOCOM. We’ve gone through the sale to AVNET and then your repurchase of it. Tell us a bit about the basic concept behind TOCOM.
CAMPBELL Okay. While we were a division of AVNET, Syl Hurlehy said, “We’ve got to figure a way to be big in cable television. We want to be prominent. We want to be a big company in the business. Why don’t you sit down with your people and come up with a concept stating where you think the industry is going and what’s the future, and we will put the money into it to make it happen. I’ll take it to the AVNET board and we’ll get the approval.” This was in 1970, several months before the national convention. This is just before the interactive, the first two-way stuff started to surface. The big push in franchising then, for some of the major markets were going to develop two-way services and other good things to get the franchises. That was the first big go-around in franchising.
So we came up with a concept allowing that the television set is twelve channels besides the UHF. The industry was running out of channels, so we looked at midband and the use of converters.
Our concept at TOCOM was: whatever happened in the home is going to happen at the TV set. We envisioned that the first thing that would be viable in the home, other than available channels, was pay television. I had observed the experiment in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the experiment in Palm Springs early in the early 1950s on Pay TV and the conclusion of practically everyone was that it would have to be on a pay-as-you-go basis. They were coming up with all kinds of coin boxes where you drop coins in or you bought tickets and put them in. All of these were just interim steps. First, take the converter, it would be a box that would control the pay-per- view and that could reasonably be handled on a two-way basis which was the trend, the way of thinking. The two-way concept would upstream on everything below channel 2 and downstream to the home on everything else.
DUDLEY You better explain what upstream means. Upstream coming up from?
CAMPBELL Upstream, downstream, all the channels, all the information from the headend site to the home would go on 50 megaHertz and up. In the two-way service, anything coming from the home back to the headend site would be on the lower frequency from five or six megaHertz to 40 megaHertz given a guard band between channel 2 and the data channels coming back.
I hired a computer consultant to help us develop the concept of a system with computer interface. First, we would develop what we call the transmitter/receiver device to receive the signal coming down, telling the box what to do, then send a signal back on the low frequency, to respond. Once that communication was established for pay-per-view television, it could be used for other things that you would piggyback. Pay-per-view would be utilized just a few seconds a day. The next viable thing would be, perhaps, home security and the various other services from the home rating services, polling to watch what the viewers are watching. All the different services we proposed at that time would be piggybacked once the pay-per-view communication was established.
So that concept was put on paper. It was submitted to AVNET. Syl was saying, “You should go ahead, get something together for the show about how you are planning to do it, the concept and so forth.” We were getting that ready when AVNET decided they weren’t going to spend any more money. We had already put together a display. We called it the Total Communication System or the TOCOM System. This was in 1970. We called it the TOCOM System, but the company was still CAS Manufacturing, a Division of AVNET.
What we had at the NCTA convention in 1970 was just a mock-up of how the system was going to work. After the turn down by AVNET, we knew we weren’t going to.