BY STEPHEN SINGULAR While cable was getting its start in small towns in Arkansas and Oregon, the real foundation of the business was being laid in Pennsylvania. The Keystone State was close to several major TV markets — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York City — and this made it the logical place for the first real growth in the industry. Once TV set retailers in Pennsylvania realized that there was a market for viewing television programs broadcast from these three big cities, they had to figure out a way to get the signals into the villages around their state. About 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia, John Walson ran an appliance store in Mahanoy City. He ran an antenna wire into his shop to pick up TV programs from Philadelphia and show people how the system worked. Before long customers were insisting that he string more wire around town so they could buy a TV and bring this new form of entertainment into their residences. He put up the wire and began charging $2 a month for the service. By 1957 he had 14,250 subscribers. Over in Pottsville, roughly 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia, another appliance store operator named Martin Malarkey got his first exposure to cable TV in 1949, when he stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Inside his hotel room a 10-inch TV set put out a very good picture. When he asked a hotel engineer how this was possible, the man told him that he’d put a master antenna system into the Waldorf-Astoria which connected all 500 rooms to a large antenna on the roof. Malarkey went back to Pottsville and decided that if the hotel engineer could wire all the rooms, he could do the same thing in his small town. He contacted the RCA Corp., and they sent several technical people out to Pottsville to see how to make this possible. The RCA crew picked up TV signals from Philadelphia and ran them from a cable down into the town via one big antenna. Many people in Pottsville wanted to hook up to this service, so Malarkey charged them $150 apiece for a connection fee and $3.75 a month. Within a year he had nearly a thousand customers. He employed his business savvy to convince the management of Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. to let him string his wires from their utility poles. Then he borrowed all the money he could to expand his system into other areas of Pennsylvania as quickly as possible. Malarkey’s reputation as a cable pioneer filtered up and down the East Coast and to the rest of the United States. Before long, the Internal Revenue Service was on his doorstep, eager to put an 8% excise tax on the dollars Malarkey was getting from subscribers. The entrepreneur resisted the tax and promised to fight it legally. He would eventually take on the feds and their levies in court — and win. This was not the last time the government would try to corral the cable business or put damaging restrictions on it, but merely the first. The battles over cable’s survival would only grow fiercer and nastier. The little industry that was springing up in small towns across the nation would be forced to take on some of the greatest powers in America — telephone companies, broadcasting networks and Hollywood filmmakers — powers that were determined to squash it before it could became strong enough to compete with them. Sensing this possibility early on, Malarkey contacted other cable operators in the autumn of 1951 and asked them to come meet with him in the Necho Allen Hotel in Pottsville. Nine other men showed up and together they pledged $1,000 apiece and formed cable’s first trade association, the National Community Television Council. Malarkey became the NCTC’s first president. Strat Smith, a lawyer who’d previously worked with the Federal Communications Commission, joined up and convinced the NCTC to change the organization’s name to the National Community Television Association. The NCTA would eventually evolve into the industry’s premier trade and lobbying group. Cable TV’s success was spreading, but so was resistance to it. The major TV networks in New York felt that this upstart business was taking their product and distributing it without regard for how it had been produced. The networks had begun TV with a monopoly on the system and intended to keep it that way. They had an ally in the Federal Communications Commission, created in 1934 in order to govern communications in the United States. The FCC’s initial task had been to divide up the limited-frequency spectrum to the latest American craze: radio. Someone had to keep radio stations from broadcasting over one another and generating mass static and interference. After World War II, the FCC had a new challenge — how to regulate this upcoming medium known as television. Was TV just a novelty that would pass away in a few years, as some prognosticators were saying, or was it here to stay? In 1945, when the feds first addressed this question, only half a dozen TV stations in America were operating and all were black-and-white. After much consideration, the FCC decided to give television enough of the spectrum in the Very High Frequency (VHF) range to allow for six more stations. Those stations with the same channel number had to be at least 150 miles apart, and those with different numbers had to be separated by 75 miles. With this ruling in place, TV began to take off. By 1948 there were 109 stations operating or about to debut in the United States and many new regulatory challenges came with this growth. TV signals bounced around a lot and caused interference in stations several hundred miles distant. As engineers struggled to solve this problem a bigger one surfaced. Instead of offering just black-and-white images, stations could now broadcast color pictures. This set off a new round of difficulties. TV signals could be broadcast in numerous ways, and the FCC needed to decide the best method, which would become the industry standard. In the fall of 1948, confronted with all of these novel issues, the commission chose to stop licensing new stations until it could resolve the matters. The freeze lasted nearly four years. TV station owners and builders were upset, and so were many communities and potential viewers (the freeze kept Bill Daniels from seeing television until the fall of 1952). In many areas the public had been promised this wonderful invention called television, and now they had to wait. They protested, but that did nothing to push forward the FCC’s schedule. Yet while the spread of new broadcasting outlets was stalled, TV as a whole was not. A group of entrepreneurs and engineers, like those in Arkansas and Oregon and Pennsylvania, were inventing cable TV across America and taking it to small towns and rural locations. In 1952, when the freeze was finally lifted, almost 14,000 U.S. homes were receiving TV signals via coaxial cable. Word traveled around the country that the person with the most knowledge in the fledgling cable field was Martin Malarkey. Two thousand miles to the west, in Casper, Wyo., Bill Daniels heard about Malarkey and decided that he had to meet him. Daniels had been seeking advice about building a cable system in the Rocky Mountain region, but nobody in his part of the country knew much about it. Daniels called Malarkey to set up an appointment, ready to jump on a plane. Malarkey said that a visit to his office would cost him, besides the price of a flight to Pennsylvania and lodging, $500 for one day’s advice. Was he willing to lay out that kind of cash for a face-to-face session? Daniels, using the style and the speed that would characterize his entire career in cable, would have paid more and did not hesitate in heading east. After discovering cable TV in Murphy’s Bar, the young man had not been able to stop thinking about it. Despite working at his oil insurance business, he’d commuted steadily back and forth to Denver. Every chance he got, he returned to Murphy’s for a corned beef sandwich, a beer and the opportunity to watch television again. The only station in Denver at that time was a local station Channel 2, which had no affiliation with the major networks. Daniels was not at all scientifically inclined and did not understand, in a technical sense, how TV actually worked, but he believed that if you could get these pictures from New York to Denver in less than a second, there had to be a way to get this new invention up to Casper. When he first encountered television, he’d never heard of cable or its possibilities. During his excursions throughout Colorado and Wyoming, he questioned many people about getting TV to locales outside the major cities — badgering engineers and electrical technicians in particular — but nothing happened. He went back to Casper and kept selling oil insurance. He was good at it, he was making some money and meeting some well-heeled oilmen, but he wasn’t satisfied. This was, after all, exactly what he’d been doing down in Hobbs and what he’d be doing right now if he’d stayed in New Mexico with his brother, Jack. He could make a go of it in the insurance business because he knew how to get people to buy things. He might even get rich, but he wasn’t excited by the prospect of this career. He wasn’t passionate about it. He didn’t see how it could lead to other things, bigger things, unpredictable things, but he did see that it could lead him where it had led his father, and that was to drinking and death at age 54. And that was one place he did not want his life to go. Imagine what he could do, Daniels sometimes told himself, if he could sell something that he really believed in, something with a real future, something that was more fun than the insurance business. Imagine the money and opportunities he could generate, not just for himself but for others. Imagine the possibilities that must be out there, if he could just connect with them. He was deeply hungry for something different, something that he knew was around him, if he could only find it. It was in his nature to dig for information from almost everyone he met, so he kept asking people questions and looking for the answers. One day he saw an article in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News about cable television, which was bringing programming to places that lay outside the reach of big-city TV signals. Apparently you could use a wire named coaxial cable to carry the signals hundreds of miles over the countryside. Daniels was riveted by this story and had to learn more about the subject. He immediately called several of the people mentioned in the article. After gathering some information, he knew what to do next. In the early 1950s, Casper didn’t offer many things, but it had one undeniable asset: a small group of oilmen with money in their pockets, an entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of adventure and an eye for the next opportunity to increase their net worth. Daniels lost no time in approaching them and asking each man to put up $5,000 for a local cable TV system. He spoke to Earl Lyle, Jeff Hawkes, Winston Cox and Harold Barnes. He told them about watching the Wednesday night fights in Denver and how exciting that had been. He told them that people in Casper would love to be able to watch TV, just as much as he did. He told them that television was here to stay and would have an unlimited future. At the time there was no TV in Wyoming at all, not one set, so this was not an easy sell. It took Daniels a while to explain what cable was and why he was convinced that it would work in Casper, but he was so enthusiastic about cable and so persuasive that no one turned him down. He talked to more people and had soon raised nearly $50,000. As the head of this group, Daniels approached the local bank and gave them the same pitch. They didn’t know anything about cable TV, either, but they knew an entrepreneur when they saw one. Daniels quickly borrowed the difference between what he’d already come up with and $250,000. With this money behind him, he couldn’t go forward without more expertise. He needed information, so he called Martin Malarkey out in Pennsylvania. Dressed in cowboy boots and a cowboy-cut suit, he flew out to Pottsville and paid Malarkey $500 for one day of careful listening. With a little direction and some cash, Daniels knew that his next challenge was to find people with the technical knowledge that he lacked. He really had no idea how cable worked, only that it was an idea that he was ready to expand into a business. One of his Casper connections, Earl Lyle, told him about two brothers down in Texas, Richard and Gene Schneider, who were ex-GIs and trained engineers. Like Daniels, they’d come home from the war searching for something new and different, something they hadn’t been able to find so far in the Lone Star State. When Daniels phoned and asked if they wanted to throw themselves into the upstart cable TV business up north, they were initially cautious but found his salesmanship hard to counter. In fact, he was impossible to ignore. They’d already visited Casper, they told him, and liked the area. They were willing to give the idea a try and soon began traveling around Texas looking for cable systems they could study. They found one in Tyler and then they found the person they were looking for: a consulting engineer in Denver named Tom Morrissey. An ex-Bell Labs employee, Morrissey understood coaxial cable and television transmission far better than they did. He was also willing to explain to them what he knew. He spent hours with the men teaching them the basic principles of cable TV and how to put together a system that would work. The Schneider brothers soon went up to Casper and began building the pioneering cable outlet in Wyoming. Richard became the head engineer, Gene ran the outfit and Daniels continued in his role as the relentless promoter and fundraiser for this newfangled enterprise. The brothers’ mother, Gladys, loaned them some money for the venture and became the company’s bookkeeper, a position she would hold for the rest of her life. They called their operation the Community Television Systems of Wyoming, Inc., because they felt that the term “community” would help their image locally, especially if they were ever sued. Now all Daniels had to do was go to AT&T and talk the gigantic telephone company into helping him transmit the signal, via microwave, from Denver’s Channel 2 up to Casper, 250 miles away, a much farther distance than TV signals were relayed in the East. If AT&T said no, the investment was sunk because the telephone behemoth had a monopoly on all the existing microwave facilities. This was the first time an attempt would be made to send television signals to obscure locations through the use of microwave transmission. AT&T thought over the offer and said they would be willing to try it, but needed a down payment of $125,000 — a vast amount for a business that had no history whatsoever in the Rocky Mountain West. Bill Daniels had no customers, had no background in this field and had thus far generated no income from this venture. He had no tangible evidence that he could actually bring all this off. Undaunted, he went to the partners and asked each of them to reach down further into his wallet because without more money, the deal was dead. The men listened and were persuaded enough to put up a $125,000 bond to kick-start the relationship with AT&T. It was a huge risk and everyone involved knew it. “Believe me,” says Gene Schneider, “back then $125,000 was a lot of money.” Armed with Malarkey’s business suggestions, AT&T’s technological support, the engineering skills of the Schneider brothers and his own determination, Daniels was ready to launch the system. Before that could officially happen, he went to the powers that be in Casper and obtained a permit to operate the system. “I’m kind of sorry I did that,” he once told an interviewer for the Cable Center in Denver, “because I don’t think we needed them in those days, but I did it anyway. By going to the city of Casper, it started instant publicity in the newspaper…. I got some ink saying some guy…wants to bring television to Casper, and it was free publicity.” “We finally got the system built,” recalls Gene Schneider, “in December of 1953 and turned it on. We had the opening in the National Guard Armory in Casper. There were no television sets in town. We did not want to be in the business of selling TV sets, so we had to convince appliance dealers to get some in so we had something to show the people what we were selling. These were black-and-white sets, about 3 to 4 feet across, with a 12-inch screen in the middle. In the first two days at the armory, about 12,000 people came through, a lot of them from all around the state, just to see a television picture. Casper only had about 20-to-22,000 people back then. “We signed up a lot of them, and it was probably the most successful system I was ever involved in. We charged $150 to hook up and $7.50 a month, which was a very high number for one black-and-white channel in today’s dollars.” Also, the system ran only eight hours a day. “By the end of 1954,” Schneider says, “we’d hooked up about 4,000 homes and completely paid for everything in one year. Bill was just a super salesman. He could sell anything and was a great asset to the business in the early days.” The Casper venture was even more of a bonanza than Daniels had envisioned. His group of oilmen investors felt as if they’d just drilled scores of wells and none had come up dry. If things were this profitable in other places, cable would be an unstoppable industry. Every town in the West would immediately want to hook up a cable system. Everybody was anxious to get connected to TV. Flushed with this early success, the young entrepreneur was ready to take the system elsewhere. One of the major issues Daniels and his partners had faced that first year in Casper was what fare to put on the one channel they were offering. Who made that decision? Every 90 days they sent their customers a poll and asked them to pick which program they preferred — I Love Lucy or Sid Caesar’s show. The majority ruled, at least that was the way they presented it to the public. “We had to choose what to bring up on the channel over the microwave,” says Schneider, “so we put out ballots to people to let them select. But then Bill and Richard and I would get together and decide what we wanted to see. Which, of course, were all the sports, all the fights. We never got any complaints about this. Nobody knew how we were operating this and many people didn’t even vote. They probably wanted to watch sports, too.” While Daniels was launching his system in Casper, Jack Crosby was starting his own cable business out of his father’s appliance store in Del Rio, Texas. For $10,000 he put up a TV tower right on the Mexican border. The reception was so bad, he once said, that “you could watch a football game, but you couldn’t tell which team had the ball.” During this time he received angry phone calls at home morning, noon, and night. He was finally able to build his own microwave system, which greatly improved reception and stopped the calls. He never imagined that he wasn’t simply clearing up a TV picture but creating a system that would forever change the world of communications. “I just wanted to be able to watch something on this wonderful new tube,” he says. “We didn’t have a big business attitude — it was simply let’s see if we can get television. If you stop and think, one of the most remarkable things about cable is that it is a multibillion-dollar industry that started in the Del Rios, Texas, and Casper, Wyomings of the world and then moved to New York and Philadelphia and other big cities.” Throughout the years both Daniels and Crosby shared many responsibilities in the cable business, including the chairmanship of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA). One day Crosby got a call from one of his banking partners in Del Rio. “He said there was a lady driving up to the bank in a Cadillac, from Mexico City, and she wants to cash an out-of-town check,” Crosby said. “I said to him, ‘You know, we don’t do that without references.’ So the person at the bank asked her who to call as a reference, and she said, ‘Whoever owns the cable television system in town.’ I asked the banker, ‘Would she happen to be a very beautiful petite blond lady, going to Denver, by the name of Daniels?’ The banker said, ‘Yes, how would you know?’ I said, ‘Just a wild guess. Give her the bank!’” Despite the good results from his first cable venture, Daniels was not in a position to quit his insurance job and go into the communications business full time. While maintaining an office in Casper, he kept up his regular commutes to Denver and decided to open a cable office there in the Mile Hi Center building. He and his investors had soon started two more systems in Rawlins, Wyo., and Farmington, N.M., two modest Western towns much like the places Daniels had grown up in. He was comfortable visiting these locales and selling to these people; he had an instinctual feel for their backgrounds and understood that they were looking for the kind of entertainment TV could provide. In some ways he was a modest man who was almost painfully aware of his lack of education. He’d been an average student in high school and had never gone to college. He was unpretentious in manner, in the Western cut of his clothes, and in what he liked to eat and drink. One of his favorite meals, even many years later, after he’d hired a gifted French chef, was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich graced with pickles. Another favorite were the small White Castle hamburgers, which he ate by the handful. His manner was rough-hewn and his language was salty. He liked risqué jokes and terms of endearment for women (such as “honey” and “darling”), and he would keep using these words long after they became politically incorrect. He liked to puff cigarettes constantly and would ignore many of the bans on smoking that pervaded America later in his life. He liked to drink, a habit he’d developed early and that intensified as he got older. He was modest in all ways except one — and that was in his ambition to bring cable TV to the American West. From the moment Daniels first encountered this new medium, he looked upon it not just as a business but as a calling, a way to alter and expand the world around him, a way to keep himself amused and involved in the world for decades to come, a method to give back to others who had much less than he did. Cable TV was the doorway that allowed him to connect with people and change their lives, an opportunity to use not just his business acumen or financial resources but his spirit and heart and immense creativity. Cable TV was a labor of love that would take him places he could never have imagined — including Hollywood parties, dinner invitations to the White House and friendships with several presidents. All that was a very long way from his family’s humble roots. He never forgot the underdog because he knew what it meant to be one. And he was the first person on either side of his lineage who looked at a job as not merely a way to survive, but as a means of self-expression. He hadn’t lived just to go to work each morning and put in his time. He wanted to find some joy along the way — wanted not only to open a new office and help build a new industry, but to discover a new way of doing business. While searching for new cable markets in Wyoming, New Mexico and other Western states, Daniels drove throughout the Rocky Mountain West, stopping in dusty towns all along the way and looking for places that might be interested in getting wired for TV. He gave the locals his sales pitch about how cable was the coming thing and then moved on to the next community. He ran a very small-time operation, but at least he was getting out of the office and doing something he believed in. After returning to Casper, he called up those who were building the young cable industry around the country and made appointments. Then he traveled to meet them. He followed up his visits with notes and letters. He asked a thousand questions and then a thousand more. He learned which bankers were servicing the fledgling cable systems and which were reluctant to get involved in the business. Daniels was good with numbers and was developing a sense of the figures behind successful operations of different sizes. He was absorbing information from everywhere and everyone. If he was at a loss to explain the technical side of cable, he was at his best when bringing people together to talk about making new deals. Without quite realizing it, he was starting to define his role in the industry. Nobody else was playing this role because it hadn’t existed before Daniels came along. No one else saw the opportunity or took it. He was the man in the middle of everything — the guy who knew more about the business as a whole than anybody else. Within a few years after his first encounter with television, others around the country were beginning to take notice of this development. If you wanted information about cable anywhere in the United States, you phoned Bill Daniels. If you needed to get to know someone in Texas or California or up and down the East Coast, you dialed that man out in Denver, because he had all the phone numbers and had probably talked to that person himself. If you had to raise money for a deal, you phoned Daniels and he was ready with half a dozen suggestions; if the first five didn’t work out, the sixth one just might. If you had a question about technology, he most likely couldn’t answer it himself but could connect you with the right people. If you just wanted to talk about cable’s possibilities, you phoned Daniels and heard the most optimistic response you could imagine about the future of the business. If he was having trouble creating or holding together a family of his own, maybe the world of cable was becoming a much larger and ever-expanding family for him. And maybe that always shifting world of business was more suited to Daniels’ personality and needs. Maybe it was change itself that he was most attracted to — change and growth and having new experiences and creating new opportunities for others — instead of doing the same thing over and over again. Maybe what cable needed more than anything else was someone with an unlimited view of the future, someone with a vision and the desire to talk about it. Everywhere he went he would talk about cable providing television access to people in rural communities and providing better reception for viewers all over America, but that wasn’t what he really wanted to tell people. His true interest lay in something that often sounded to others like a distant dream. He wasn’t content with cable being merely a wire that hooked up distant towns to network broadcasts coming out of cities. He thought cable could do much more than that — generate its own programming and offer alternatives to network shows. He thought that once the nation was wired, once everyone had a TV set and was hooked up to cable, then cable itself could play an important role in the American culture. Why did millions upon millions of citizens have to depend on what the three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — were broadcasting from New York? Why couldn’t people have more choices? Why couldn’t there be programs for kids and programs for adults and programs for a whole variety of tastes? Why was the thinking so limited? This was what he really liked to talk about, but even many people inside the industry doubted that most of these things would ever happen. At the moment, they were just trying to keep their small businesses running. Daniels wasn’t getting paid for a lot of his activities on behalf of cable, but he was staying very busy and having a lot more fun than he had selling insurance. Then there were the side benefits. As a result of widespread networking, he was elected chairman of the National Cable Television Association for 1956-57. This was largely a symbolic position in those days, yet it greatly expanded his set of contacts and opportunities. At the same time, it limited his options for doing deals. “I didn’t feel that as president of the trade association, I should use that for my personal gain,” he told the Cable Center. “That thought bothered me, but I advised people on how to build their systems, who to call, who to talk to.… I told them the same things that Marty [Malarkey] had told me, and helped them get on because we wanted the business to grow.” After leaving the NCTA office, he wanted to enter cable full time, but many of his friends and advisers thought that would be a bad mistake. In the mid-50s, television was still little more than a novelty, and cable TV was far less than that. Most Americans didn’t even have a set. Fads like TV often came into vogue for a while before disappearing for good. Cort Dietler, an oilman in Denver, became acquainted with Daniels when they both worked at the Mile Hi Center. One day the two men engaged in a serious discussion about Daniels’ future. “I had an office on one corner, and Bill had an office on the other end,” recalls Dietler. “He was still in the insurance business, very successfully. He’d gotten carried away with the television idea in Casper, and he kept telling me that this was great and we ought to do it everywhere. I said, ‘That’s fine, Bill, it would be a nice hobby.’ He said, ‘No, I mean, that’s what I’m gonna do.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? You have an outstanding business right now.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get out of the insurance business.’ That was the last bit of financial advice I ever gave him, and he never asked me again. “Bill had the guts of an army mule. He became a very successful self-made man who didn’t go to college, and I think he was always sensitive about that. He was a natural-born salesman because he knew how to project himself and he genuinely cared. He could be plenty tough when he needed to be. He wanted to win but not in a phony manner.” While Daniels’ name was taking root throughout the industry, resistance to cable was growing. In 1952 the FCC had finally lifted its freeze on new TV stations, and many entrepreneurs rushed forward to get permits to build new ones. In the next two years, the number of stations tripled nationwide. Many of these new outlets were in smaller towns that had already been wired for cable. As broadcasters began to appear in communities where cable was present, conflict was inevitable. Local TV stations aggressively disliked competing with the signals that cable brought in from larger markets. They felt that they couldn’t get either the local viewers or the national advertisers interested in their product, and that cable would eventually put them out of business. Politicians in these towns tended to line up behind the local broadcasters — at the expense of cable. In Asheville, N.C., the city council voted against building a cable system. In Fairmont, W.Va., local broadcasters asked for the federal government to step in and limit cable systems. In Memphis, Tenn., the homegrown TV outlet told the cable entrepreneurs that it wanted nothing to do with their services. In Reno, Nev., the group that produced the very popular Cisco Kid series sued the local cable system because it was bringing in this program from a San Francisco station and directly competing with the Reno channel that aired the same show. Cable was creating enemies everywhere, and its troubles were only beginning. As the industry quickly spread across the country, mostly through the efforts of local entrepreneurs, a host of technical problems had arisen with it. Many of the amplifiers and other equipment were homemade and only partly functional. They might work for a while, but bad weather was always a threat to these systems. When they inevitably broke down, frustrated customers erupted in anger. The pictures were often accompanied by “snow,” the little bits and pieces of electronic fluff on the screen that make it almost impossible to see the action. Before long, consumers were getting together, approaching the local governments or utility companies and asking them to regulate cable or force it to live up to certain standards. Then the telephone companies, which had been allowing cable to use their poles for wiring, decided they wanted a bigger piece of the TV pie. For a few years they had been willing to collect a dollar or two per pole each year as a fee for their services, but as cable spread, they wanted to charge more or even start delivering TV programs themselves. Some of them dramatically raised their rates, while others stopped letting the cable outlets use their poles. Still others took the cable systems to court. Cable was besieged on every side. With an increasing number of viewers, local broadcasters, telephone companies and city councils lined up against the young industry, the film business then joined the pile. In 1954 a TV producer named Arche Mayers told the National TV Film Council that cable systems were trying to “cheat” the movie industry by paying no copyright fees on the material they brought into local markets. This conflict soon reached Daniels and his cable firm up in Casper. A local businessman, Burt Harris, wanted to build a TV station but reluctantly was going to give up his efforts, saying he couldn’t make this work because Daniels was already bringing Denver stations into the Casper market. But Bill, who welcomed competition, encouraged Harris to enter the market with his local station. Throughout the West, both TV and radio broadcasters were growing angrier with cable. They wanted help in their business struggles and were not getting it, so in 1956 they came together and filed a request with the FCC demanding that the feds step in and regulate cable. They asked the federal government to regard cable as it regarded the phone companies, which were known as “common carriers.” These kinds of businesses were subject to having their rates and services controlled by lawmakers. The government began studying the problem and looking for solutions. In addition to all these troubles, the early days of TV were filled with some unreliable operators and many technical challenges and difficulties. In the 1950s television ran on tubes, as transistors had not yet been invented, and tubes had a way of blowing out during the most crucial moments of sporting events or at critical points in TV dramas. Dark sets produced howls of rage and indignation aimed at local cable outlets. Wind knocked down cable lines, especially in states like Wyoming, where 50-mile-an-hour gales are commonplace. Moisture became trapped inside of TV transmitting equipment, which generated pictures that resembled high-country blizzards. In cold weather, the copper core inside of the cable shrank and lost its connection to the amplifiers. A number of the original cable outlets were run by seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurs who would do whatever they could to cut costs, including splicing together pieces of worn-out cable. When conditions got tough, these pieces tended to snap in two, bringing cable a few more enemies. Because of the powerful forces lined up against cable in the 1950s (and for many years to come), the industry needed true believers, even cheerleaders, as much as it needed anything else. It needed someone who was combat-tested and unafraid of a good fight, someone who was always ready to get up off the mat and come out swinging once more. It needed people who were impatient for change and never comfortable with the word no — people who were constantly looking for a new way to say yes. It needed someone who would never give up, somebody with the grit and the humor to see things through and keep enjoying himself even when things were bad. It needed someone who knew that business was not life and death but was above all a game to be played — yet played to win. And if you could win, the other guy could too. In spite of cable’s many problems, Daniels was eager to try something novel, which would only make the nation’s film industry and broadcasters even more nervous about this upstart business. He wanted to deliver original programming, such as uncut movies or made-for-cable shows. In the fall of 1957, Daniels’ new partner out of Wyoming, a man named Carl Williams, traveled around the huge Rocky Mountain region, from Great Falls, Mont., to Albuquerque, N.M., trying to get people interested in this offer. Daniels was not the only person ready to expand cable’s services, as several other entrepreneurs were testing these ideas in markets elsewhere. In Palm Springs, Calif., a branch of Paramount Pictures called International Telemeter built a cable system designed to bring pay-per-view films into that community. Local theater owners became so upset by this prospect that Paramount quickly shut down the service. In Bartlesville, Okla., a business known as Video Independent Theatres (VIT) offered the same kind of programming to the 28,000 people of that community. VIT put on three first-run uncut movies a week on one channel, at a cost of $9.95 a month. The Bartlesville experiment failed miserably, even after the price was chopped in half. The arrival of VIT had forced its main competition — the local TV stations — to improve their programming so more people decided to stay home and watch television, which was one reason why the experiment failed. Secondly, the citizens of Bartlesville preferred to be able to choose the movies they wanted to see, instead of being given a very limited selection via cable. Third, they claimed that TV shows were more alive and spontaneous than what Hollywood was currently producing. The pay-per-view experiments in California and Oklahoma bombed, but they left the major broadcasters more afraid of cable than ever. They banded together with the other anti-cable forces and demanded regulation of this new industry — which was putting forth the audacious notion that people should pay something to watch television. American TV was supposed to be free, wasn’t it, just like American radio? Such luminaries as David Sarnoff, the esteemed chairman of NBC Television and RCA, announced that broadcasters needed protection from cable and then went further, saying that it was “a negation of…American broadcasting” to charge people to view TV. The conflict gathered momentum, and the issue soon reached the floor of the United States Senate, where the Commerce Committee hired a special counsel named Kenneth Cox to hold hearings about the broadcasters’ complaints. After listening to much testimony, Cox came down on the side of the broadcasters, writing a report declaring that cable should be regulated by the FCC. “It seems clear,” Cox stated, “that the TV industry cannot thrive and grow, to the greatest ultimate public interest, if it continues to exist only half regulated.” In 1958 the FCC ruled on the widespread broadcasters’ demand that cable be regarded as a common carrier and therefore subject to regulation. Despite the enormous opposition to unregulated cable, the federal government saw things differently, unanimously voting against viewing it as a common carrier. Cable was different from telephone and telegraph operators, the feds decided, because cable did not carry information indiscriminately but chose what signals to convey, based on the appetites of the consumer. In spite of this victory, the fight was only beginning. Having failed to persuade the FCC to regulate cable, the broadcasters began heavily lobbying the U.S. Congress to achieve the same goal. Congressmen were soon introducing their own bills to limit cable’s power and reach. In 1959 the Senate Commerce Committee held hearings in order to find ways to control the new business. This frontal assault on cable rankled many entrepreneurs but none more so than Bill Daniels, who’d been following the political battle from Denver, while traveling around the country promoting the industry. “Having fought in World War II and Korea,” he told the Cable Center, “and having been in the cable business such a short time, and having the government tell me what I could or could not do, I deeply resented this. Because I thought, ‘Now wait a minute, goddammit! I’ve been out there busting my ass and getting shot at, and all I wanted to do was make a living!’” Like many combat veterans in the aftermath of World War II and Korea, Daniels felt that he had a right to return to America and earn money as he saw fit. When the U.S. had called on him to serve, he’d sacrificed his time and risked his life for his country, not just once but twice. He’d done this with courage and honor, and he now believed that his nation should not stand in his way when he was trying to build a business and kick-start an industry that could give consumers what they wanted, while providing many new jobs. He was angry that the powers that be, starting with the networks, local broadcasters, telephone companies and parts of the U.S. Congress were all threatened by the rise of cable and were committed to choking off its growth. This seemed to him not just bad business but unpatriotic, and Daniels was, as his career would demonstrate over the next several decades, first and last a very patriotic man. He and Carl Williams eventually concluded that their efforts to sell pay TV to the general public were premature. Not discouraged, Daniels began thinking of alternative ways to make money in cable. Where did he fit into the industry? What vacuum needed to be filled? He didn’t have enough wealth to bankroll a lot of new systems himself. And he wasn’t a manager of cable outlets, once they’d been built and were up and running. That kind of day-to-day work had always struck him as tedious and limited. He had a constant itch to move on, to close one deal and then look for the next opportunity, to meet new people and go new places. What could he do that wasn’t being done anywhere else? How could he use his ever-growing body of knowledge about the business to his advantage? “Bill reasoned that while there were many brokerages around the country specializing in television, radio and newspapers,” says Carl Williams. “No one was servicing the cable industry. At that time, the industry had only 300,000 subscribers and they were stretched out among a couple hundred systems. Some of the systems were very small, and the largest was a little shy of 11,000, in Cumberland, Md. Bill proposed that we start a [brokerage] partnership. With no articles of partnership, we opened a bank account. Bill put in $600 and I put in $400. A week later Bill sold a 10% interest in the company for $500 to his friend Winston Cox, who was on his board in Casper. So Bill owned 50% of Daniels & Associates, I owned 40%, Winston owned 10%, and away we went.” Daniels & Associates was the first office in the United States devoted exclusively to brokering cable deals. Now that it was in operation, it needed buyers and sellers and operating properties, so Daniels began doing what he did best. He got on the phone and started bringing people together and building the industry — spreading his vision of cable’s future from coast to coast. Relentless: Bill Daniels and the Triumph of Cable TV is available through the Cable Center. Please visit www.cablecenter.org for more information or to order, or call (303) 871-4885.