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Marion CATV
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Start of 4th Quarter . . .


Wearing a beard for the county's sesquicentennial, Marion mayor Donald Quaintance appears on our morning program Marion Today with Sandy Park (left) and Judy Rock (right) on June 19, 1972.

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Judy and Sandy promote their program.

 
Tuesday, September 12, 1972

We're finally moving towards getting color equipment at Marion CATV.  The people who have purchased the company, out of Denver, seem to be willing and able to put enough money into the operation here to upgrade it.  We're supposed to have two color cameras and two color video tape recorders on the way, to be here about Christmas time.  Even sooner than that, we're supposed to get another film projector so that we can start running movies, in black and white of course.

Also, they've hired another young fellow just out of college to help do some of the programming.  Bob Circosta has been working at Sea World in northern Ohio.  He'll be starting here in Marion the first of next week.

Among the shows he'll probably be responsible for are a daily bingo program and a daily television auction.  Both are syndicated ideas.  They've been used in other communities, apparently with some success.

For the story of bingo, hosted by Sandy and Judy, click here.

In the auction, the merchants consign to the program various items of merchandise that they've been unable to sell themselves.  The host then tries to auction these off.  Whoever ends up buying them gets in the mail a certificate inviting him to go to the store and pick up the article for the price he agreed to pay.  The idea is to get these people into the merchants' places of business, and then the merchant takes it from there and tries to sell them something else.

Bob, whose picture is below, hosted the auction.  He sat behind a table with some merchandise and a telephone.  It was a very small start to a much bigger career of television salesmanship.  After leaving Marion CATV, he went on to become the original host of the Home Shopping Network, the "One Billion Dollar Man."  According to the Budd Margolis website:

In 1977, WWQT, a news and talk radio station in Clearwater, Florida, was having difficulty selling air time and meeting the payroll of six employees.  The station manager, Lowell "Bud" Paxson, went out to collect from delinquent clients, one of which was an appliance store.  The store was also having cash flow problems.  Paxson was offered a gross of electric can openers in lieu of payment.

Paxson returned to the station and told a talk show host, Bob Circosta, that after the news he wanted Circosta to sell a can opener for $9.95.  Circosta recalls his utter surprise and shock at the thought.  After all, he was a newsman; he had ethics, integrity...

Paxson told him he would get a dollar for every can opener sold, and Circosta replied, "Boy, that's a great-looking can opener."

Listeners had to drive to the radio station to pick up their can openers.  The can openers sold out, and Paxson realized that this was easier and more profitable than trying to sell air time.

The program was titled "The Suncoast Bargaineer," and the selling slot soon grew from five to thirty minutes.  Paxson and the station owner realized that this could work on TV as well.  The Home Shopping Club was launched on a local cable system in June of 1982.

On July 1, 1985, the Home Shopping Network went national.  The first host was Bob Circosta.   His first words were, "All you have to do is call this number and we will send you a 14K gold neck chain absolutely free, and we will even pay the shipping and handling."  Nobody called.

On the first day they did a total of $352.  But all of the orders they did receive were Fedexed so that the customer would receive them the next day, and that was the birth of the testimonial.  People could call up the next day and say they got the item and were happy with it, and that's how HSN developed into one of the most exciting concepts in retail history.  Circosta has been selling on air for over 11,000 hours and is credited with sales of over $1 billion.

 

Sunday, November 19, 1972

Marion CATV has just completed a project that brought in over $12,000 to pay the hospital bills of a 13-year-old boy who is in the last stages of a long fight with cancer. 

The boy's mother is on welfare and has several other children to care for.  Jeff, who has only days to live, had been watching our "Marion Today" show for some time while he was confined to his home.  Now that he's hospitalized, he can't see the program since the hospital has no CATV, but Judy and Sandy have visited him several times.

The idea came up about a week ago that we should do something to raise money to give Jeff a Christmas now, since he probably won't live until December 25, and also to pay off some of the medical bills.  We decided to have a 12-hour telethon.  It was cablecast from 6:30 Friday night until 6:30 Saturday morning.


On this poster commemorating the telethon, I've tinted the picture of me at work in the control room so that you can find it.  No, I am not the clown.  Nor am I the host in the tuxedo; that's Bob Circosta.

All sorts of entertainers came to our studio to present their acts, as did mayors and other officials.  We had a proclamation from the Governor.  Many volunteers offered their help.  Literally hundreds of people, many of them teenagers, came to the studio to personally present the money they'd collected for Jeff in their neighborhoods.  Phoned-in pledges were accepted, and sheriff's deputies then went out to collect the pledges.  It was quite a night.

 


Marion CATV personalities at Christmas 1972:
Judy Rock, Bob Circosta, Sandy Park

 

On Marion Today on Friday, March 16, 1973.  I sat down on the couch between Judy and Sandy to deliver the “news update.”  We spent as little effort as possible on this segment.  For one item, I merely read a routine press release that city recreation director Ed Henn had sent us the day before.  The second paragraph contained a mention of someone we knew, and to avoid any awkwardness on the air I had edited that sentence out by drawing a line through it.

The camera had zoomed in on a single shot of me, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed the lady to my right reading along with me and doing a double-take.  Had Ed deleted the sentence in question, and if so, why?  Had plans been changed?  To reassure her, I pulled a red pen from my pocket and wrote her a note at the top of the page, “I marked that off myself,” while continuing to read from the bottom of the page.  I was quite proud to discover that I was able to talk professionally to the TV camera while simultaneously scribbling something unrelated.  I will admit, however, that in order to write I had to think of the letters one at a time.

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In May of 1973, at my prompting from the control room, Judy Rock ad-libs a one-minute commercial for the Marion Piano Company — the suppliers of the studio piano played by Judy Dendinger.


The allegation that the instrument was actually an automatic player piano was a standing joke.

 
Wednesday, June 13, 1973

Another big change is a possibility for this fall, but I have my doubts.

Marion CATV's parent company, TCI, is starting up four new systems in southwestern Ohio, just north of Cincinnati.  They've offered me the option of staying on at Marion or transferring to Middletown, where plans are to build a new color studio to serve all four new systems.  Providing they pay me enough money to make up for my increased expenses due to living away from home, this sounds like it might be a good opportunity.

The catch is that the Denver office of TCI is dragging its feet on building the Middletown studio.  As recently as January, they planned to be in operation by June 1973.  A few months later it was September 1973.  By now it's probably 1974.  If they're that reluctant to spend the money even to get the project off the ground, I wonder whether we'll be able to get the money needed to do things right once the studio is in operation.

I'm wondering if I wouldn't be better off to stay in Marion until I get completely fed up with TCI and look for a job with another company.

 

Thursday, August 16, 1973

It's been more than a year since I've written you.  Marion CATV has had four different managers, and during that time there was a period of a month or two during which we had no manager at all!  Seems that the regional manager, who works out of Hamilton, Ohio, can't find anyone willing to do things his way for more than a few months.  He's a hard man to work for.  Fortunately, I don't work for the regional manager directly but rather for the local manager here in Marion.

And then there's the telephone strike.  Marion CATV isn't being struck, but General Telephone is, and we lease lines from GenTel to carry our signals around the city.  The strikers have been vandalizing GenTel equipment throughout the month-long dispute.  Some of the damage has cut off service from our customers in some parts of town, and since GenTel has only a small repair force because everyone's out on strike, it takes days sometimes to get us back in business.

Ah, yes, we're still having fun here in Maron!

There was some talk earlier in the year about building a new studio in Middletown, Ohio, and some talk about moving me down there.  I haven't heard anything lately.  The problem seems to be that the parent company doesn't want to lay out any money to build the studio.  At this point, they're more interested in acquiring new systems than in taking care of the ones they've got.

I am getting to the place where I'm ready for a change, though.  If another year passes and there's still no studio in Middletown, I may start looking for another company to work for.  Anyhow, I've probably lived at home about long enough.

 

Annette and Lew Riling produced a weekly religious program in our studio called Gospel in Song, featuring Lew's preaching in addition to small musical groups.

They also put out a monthly newsletter.  As the show's director, I was pictured in the November 1973 edition, posing in the control room.

The rack's equipment, from top to bottom:

Camera control for film chain

Three monitors (for the film chain and two cameras)

Dual Altec audio mixers

Waveform monitor

Control buttons for projectors

Video special effects generator

Non-synchronous "glitch switcher" to select a VTR

Video switcher-fader

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Each Altec could generate a one-kilohertz test tone, but the two tones were at slightly different frequencies.  Switching both of them on at the same time produced this distinctive but annoying test signal.

Tuesday, November 13, 1973

Our industry is beginning to move away from the production of television shows by local cable systems like Marion CATV.  Probably no system in the country is making a profit in local origination, and the industry is beginning to cut back in order to save money.

The cutback hasn't hit Marion yet; but the signs are that it's coming, perhaps as soon as February.  And when it comes, I may or may not have a job.

Fortunately, I have enough in my savings account to support me for several months of job-hunting.  I might also check into the broadcasting operations of a few universities, to see if there's any need for someone with a master's and a few years of practical experience.  Now if there's just enough gasoline available to allow me to drive to the job interviews . . . .

 

Monday, February 4, 1974

I must apologize to you for not writing sooner.  I've been unusually busy lately; I start a new job a week from today.

At Marion CATV, things have been going downhill for some time now, and the rumor for a couple of months has been that the studio will be shut down as of March 1.  They would continue movies and remotes, but they felt that keeping a studio staff was just too costly.

Local programs on cable TV do not make money.  In 1973, we spent $62,500 in Marion and made only $20,600 in advertising revenue, for a loss of $41,900.  In the past, CATV companies have been willing to write these losses off as public relations in hopes that they would start making a profit in another year or two.  But now, with the financial picture becoming tighter throughout the CATV industry, the companies are being forced to put another hole in their belts.

I was told that I would continue to have a job — others would not be so lucky — but my job would probably be answering service complaints and dispatching crews to fix the cable, which is not where my training and interests lie.  So I started considering looking for another employer.

I had few hopes of getting another job similar to the one that's being phased out, because of the industry-wide situation:  literally hundreds of employees of TelePrompTer, the largest CATV operator in the country, lost jobs like mine in 1973, so the labor market in this field should be flooded.  I began looking for work in radio.

On January 11, however, I got a call from Jack Rubins, who was the manager at Marion for my first two years there.  (Since then we've had four different managers in less than two years; seems that no one can get along with the regional manager.  In fact, I think that's why Jack left.)  Jack said he'd heard that Marion's programming might be eliminated, and he'd also heard that the company he now works for was looking for someone to be program director for their CATV system in Washington, Pennsylvania.  I said I might be interested, so Jack turned me over to the man who would be my boss, someone by the name of Jack Frost.  We decided I'd take a trip to Washington on January 19 to look over the situation.

Washington is a town a little smaller than Marion, located about 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.  The system has 7,000 subscribers, which is about the same number as Marion.  But within the last year they've moved into a new office and studio building.  The building is well designed, attractive, and well equipped.  The studio looks like a TV studio on a small scale, not like a back room where someone decided to hang some lights.  And they're committed to a certain amount of local programming and aren't worried about making a profit (though they would like to start breaking even in a few years, if that's possible).

We discussed salary that afternoon, and then I drove back to Richwood (four hours away) to talk things over with my parents.  On Monday the 21st, Jack Frost called me to inform me that he and the Washington manager had decided to in fact offer me the job on the terms we'd discussed.  And I told him that I'd decided to accept the offer.  We determined a starting date of February 11, so that I could give my two weeks' notice on January 25.

 

My last day in Marion was February 8.  On Tuesday the 19th, Judy Rock wrote to tell me that the day before, TV-3 had announced that they would be shutting down on Friday.  "We had quite a bit of reaction to it from our viewers.  I think most people are surprised but have been able to accept it."

 

TBT

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