Independent Lifetime Achievement Award
Carolina Mountain Cablevision
Talk to Ray Miller and you realize several things: at 82, he’s very sharp (Miller was going into the office every day up until a year ago); he’s a living monument to cable (his memory is prodigious as are his various collections); and he’s had a remarkable life.
Yet his name is not widely known outside independent cable. True, you can find his oral history online at The Cable Center—in that 1999 interview Miller spoke presciently about the Internet and VoIP; today he and son Randy are bringing fiber to small towns in NC. Still, this Cable Pioneer inexplicably is missing from cable’s Hall of Fame. Perhaps it’s his humility. “Ray has more quiet integrity than anyone I’ve ever known,” says Mike Pandzik, the former NCTC chief. Adds ACA president & CEO Matt Polka, “Ray is one of the true gentlemen of cable.” Notes Pandzik, “He’s always there, off to the side, but leading the pack in one advance after another.” Polka concurs: “We tend to forget that people like Ray made this industry what it is today.” Due respect to The Hall, “They’ve overlooked a great and deserving candidate,” Pandzik concludes. Incidentally, some of Miller’s cable memorabilia resides at The Cable Center.
Born “poor” in NC, Miller as a child worked with his father fixing radios. In junior high—yes, he remembers his science teacher’s name—Miller began building radios. As a high school senior he studied television the first year it was offered. After graduation he found work repairing televisions.
During the early 1950s, he read about cable in Popular Science (he still has the article). Seeing a need in the NC mountains, in 1955 he and his boss formed a cable company and bought hilltop property to erect a tower. Sadly, customers were few and banks balked. “I was disgusted.” With coins for gas money in a coffee can—“we were as poor as church mice”— the peripatetic Miller and his wife drove west to Alaska, with a stop to see Hollywood.
En route, a hotel owner convinced Miller to ditch Alaska, promising great opportunities in CA for a TV technician. Miller had three job offers the next day; two paid $2/hour, the other $2.25. He took the third offer.
With money coming in, the Millers saved $2/week; then more as Ray also took a night job repairing TVs for $5/visit. Their plan was to save enough to return to NC, buy a farm and perhaps a small radio-TV shop.
While on a repair call (Ray still knows the address), a customer asked Miller to call the cable TV company for her. The company was so impressed with Miller’s diagnosis of the repair that it offered him a job. Tapping into his savings, Miller eventually formed a cable company and built systems in the mountains of northern L.A. Later he did the same in Nevada, Texas and Florida. In total, he has owned systems in six states, had stakes in 68 and won more than 40 franchises.
We can’t begin to list Miller’s achievements during 60 years in cable, but NCTC needs mentioning. “It’s the best… no doubt about it,” he says, raving about Pandzik and Frank Hughes, SVP, member services. As NCTC chair, Miller expanded the co-op’s purview beyond programming to equipment. Another proud moment: Miller cast the deciding vote at a CA Cable Association board meeting to hire a youngster named Walter Kaitz. “The Lord has blessed me,” Miller says today. Amen.
– Seth Arenstein
– Fast Facts
– In 2011 Miller received The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, NC’s highest award. Other recipients include: Maya Angelou, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey and Billy Graham.
– Miller’s cable days in CA brought him into contact with stars. “Jimmy Durante was one of the nicest people I ever met,” he says, giving similar kudos to Debbie Reynolds, Sammy Davis Jr, Bobby Darin, Brian Keith and Pat Buttram, best known as Mr. Haney on “Green Acres.”