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Quoth the Program Director
Written November 7, 2017


I had been on the job for nine weeks.  Now it was Wednesday, April 17, 1974.  It was time to meet my boss's business associates.

Jim Loker was the general manager of the cable TV system in the small city of Washington, Pennsylvania, southwest of Pittsburgh.  I always called him Mr. Loker, and this is the only image I can find of him.

In the "Gourmet Corner (??)" of that month's Tower Communications company newsletter, he had a recipe for Drunken Barbeque Sauce.  In a saucepan, combine two cups of tomato sauce and a cup of stale lager beer.  Add finely diced green peppers and onions and celery to taste, plus garlic salt and oregano and maybe a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.  For a thicker sauce, remove the cover and simmer some more.  He recommended using this concoction to make Swiss steak.

Mr. Loker had invited me to be the guest speaker at the local Lions Club's luncheon meeting at the Holiday Inn.

Before throwing me to the Lions, he introduced me by explaining that I had recently taken over the operation of Cable TV-3, one of the channels on his Washington Channels system.  There I was responsible for locally produced TV programs, as I had been for the previous 3½ years at a similar system in Marion, Ohio.

I still have the single page of notes I used for my talk, and I also kept the seven-paragraph newspaper write-up from a subsequent Observer-Reporter.  Using these documents, I've reconstructed my talk as follows.  I leave it to you to adjust the numbers for inflation.


Good afternoon!  I've brought along a couple of visual aids today.

Know what this is?  It's a cubic inch.  You've all heard of a cubic inch.  It's a cube, one inch on a side.

Now how many cubic inches would it take to fill up a room?  For example, this banquet room that we're in?  Quite a large number, no doubt.

I actually did the math.  To fill a space 43 feet by 40 feet with a 10-foot ceiling would require thirty million of these little cubes.

Thirty million.  A large number indeed.  That happens to be the number of TV sets that were tuned to CBS to see the Dolphins beat the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII.  Thirty million homes, and inside them, 70 million people were watching those TVs.

Advertisers who wanted to send their message to those Super Bowl viewers were willing to pay big bucks, such as $210,000 to air a single one-minute commercial.  That's a lot of money.  But if that ad convinces one viewer in a hundred to buy a carton of Coke, it's worth it.

Let's think smaller, however.  Let's think about our city right here.  I work for a CATV system.  CATV stands for Community Antenna TeleVision.  Using our community antenna, we receive TV stations and send their signals to your house on a cable, so you don't need an antenna of your own on your roof.  But besides the TV stations, there's one more channel we use for our own programs.  We call it TV-3, and I'm in charge of that.

How many of you saw the Section 3 wrestling tournament up at Trinity High School when we televised it live?  Some of you.  Good.

Well, like the Super Bowl, our TV-3 shows are also supported by advertising.  But we can't charge anything like $210,000 per minute.  We don't have nearly as many viewers.

How many do we have?  There are 7,300 subscribers hooked up to Washington Channels, and when we televise local events, maybe 20 percent of those subscribers are watching.  Fourteen hundred homes — we hope.

Fourteen hundred cubic inches would not come close to filling this whole room.

Fourteen hundred cubic inches would only be enough to fill this grocery bag.


When CBS covered that Super Bowl, they had 140 employees at the stadium down in Houston.  Their equipment included 84 video monitors and 15 cameras worth $80,000 each.  Those cameras alone were worth $1.2 million.

CBS can spend that kind of money because their audience is 20,000 times larger than ours.

But here in town, our sponsors are mostly small-businesses owners.  They'll only pay maybe $10 or $20 for a one-minute commercial.  So at TV-3, we make do with what we can afford.  Up at Trinity, we had six people and six monitors.  I switched between two black-and-white cameras, worth only $2,000 each.

As you can see, CATV isn't a big operation.  Yet our programs have to compete with CBS programs to attract viewers.  How can we possibly do that?  We're local!  We can show local people and local activities.

(Here, according to my notes, I related the stories of some people I'd read about who were making their own shows:  a guy and his wife in Massachusetts and a cowboy in Colorado.  I no longer remember the details.  Today, they'd be on YouTube or something.  However, I noted that all of us who produce video on a shoestring need a sense of humor to survive.)

Will we grow larger in the future?  Well, the size of our effort is limited by the number of subscribers.  Part of TV-3's support does come from a small fraction of the monthly fees that our subscribers pay, but we're mostly supported by advertising revenue.

We could import big-time programs from syndicators, but those shows don't have any special interest for our local folks, so it's hard for our advertising salesman to sell ads in them.  There is one exception to that:  Penn State football games.  We hope to carry them on tape delay.

In a larger city like Pittsburgh, we would have more opportunities, but also more competition.  However, most large cities don't have any cable TV at all, because it requires a big investment to string the wires all over town.  It will be a few more years before Pittsburgh gets cable.

Therefore, here in Washington, PA, we don't foresee much change in our operation in the near future.  Still, it's a lot of fun!

(I hadn't cleared my remarks with my boss in advance, and I hoped he didn't think I should have been less candid about the small size of our operation or more bullish about our future prospects.  But he seemed satisfied afterwards, and I kept my job for six years — until we no longer could afford to continue.)



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