The cable industry lost a titan last month, but outside his home state of Pennsylvania, his passing made barely a ripple of notice. And by all accounts, that’s exactly how Bob Tarlton would have wanted it. On July 19, Tarlton passed away quietly at his home, in a manner befitting the humble, soft-spoken 91-year-old man whose staggering accomplishments remain to this day some of the best kept secrets in cable. Now, understand that much debate still rages over who was the very first person to build a cable system and sell television signals to the public. But consider the following: Depending upon who you believe, Bob Tarlton may or may not have been the first person to ever run wire down the side of a mountain to feed clear signals to a television set – in his case his father’s appliance store in the Panther Valley town of Lansford. Bob Tarlton may have been the first to run into homes insulated coaxial cable rather than the flat, twin-lead antenna wire other operators used at the time. Bob Tarlton was most likely the first person to sell subscriptions to his television service, making his the very first cable company. Bob Tarlton was among the first to pay local fees on revenue, making him a founding father of the franchise fee. Bob Tarlton eventually approached a Pennsylvania manufacturer named Jerrold Electronics to build cable system amplifiers and the very first cable splitters. He then partnered with Jerrold founder Milton Shapp, who in addition to being a cable pioneer in his own right, went on to serve as governor of Pennsylvania. Bob Tarlton, realizing his growing industry would need a lobbying presence in the state capitol of Harrisburg, formed the very first state cable association and was named its first president. Because his state association was so well-run and so ahead of the issues, operators from other states began attending Pennsylvania meetings. Realizing that operators’ needs were similar nationwide, Tarlton formed and was elected to lead what would eventually be called the National Cable Television Association. How do I know all this about Tarlton? Because one of the most gentle and nicest men in cable, retired Pennsylvania association president Stan Singer, told me about him. And Stan and I go back some. When I was a cable operator, my company ran systems in Western Pennsylvania. I got to know Stan and many of the state’s operators. And through that association, I began to learn first-hand just how much pride they took in both the industry and their role in creating it. Many ran small companies, and many more were independent operators, but they were all brothers and sisters; all family. What happened to one of them in no small way impacted them all. That’s why Stan’s heart was heavy as he talked about the gentle, humble man who had just passed. When Bob Tarlton died a month or so ago, a little bit of every operator in the state died with him. Stan told me his most vivid memory of Bob was watching him, late in life, wheel his aging and sickly wife around the exhibit floor at a cable show. "Most people were visiting the programming booths, because that’s where all the free stuff was… but not Bob. He loved hardware and hearing all about the latest trends in technology." Before we hung up, Stan told me about the first time his wife met Bob. After meeting him, she watched him walk away and said to herself with a sigh, "What a nice man." Then, after collecting herself, she turned back to her admittedly decent husband and asked, "Why can’t you be more like that?"

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