Cable Hall Ceremony Inducts First-Time TelePrompTer User

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Denver –- History was made at the Cable Hall of Fame induction ceremonies here Thursday night when 89-year-old Hubert “Hub” Schlafly, who built the first TelePrompTer machine, used one for the first time to read a speech in public.

Schlafly was one of six executives from cable operations, programming and technology inducted into the hall. He’s credited with helping to usher in nationwide transmission of television signals via satellite. He and Sidney Topol of Scientific Atlanta built an eight-meter transportable satellite receiver for that task.

The technology was publicly demonstrated first in 1973 when then Speaker of the House Carl Albert addressed a cable convention in Anaheim, Calif., from his office in Washington, D.C. Schlafly said in his remarks “without a doubt” that 1973 demonstration was his greatest contribution to the cable industry.

But, as his introductory video related, Schlafly was tasked in the 1950s with building a device to display an actor’s lines on a typewritten scroll of paper located near the TV camera. He did so, and he and Fred Barton (an actor who wanted help remembering his lines if he had a part on a daily TV drama) and Irving Kahn later founded the TelePrompTer Corp.

By the time of the 1973 demonstration in Anaheim, TelePrompTer had become the biggest U.S. cable operator. It was later sold to Westinghouse.

Hall of Famer Bill Bresnan, a former TelePrompTer executive, said at the ceremony that Schlafly’s use of a TelePrompTer to read his speech there was the first time he’d ever used one.

The ceremony also honored George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN Inc. & ABC Sports and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks (who, as was noted, started at ESPN in 1981 working in the mail room); Richard Green, the first and only chief executive of industry research consortium CableLabs; Raymond Joslin, the longtime Hearst Corp. executive who led Hearst (which teamed with ABC) into such cable programming investments as ESPN, A&E and Lifetime Television; Susan Packard, who co-founded Home & Garden Television and later was president of Scripps Networks New Ventures; and Insight Communications CEO Michael Willner.

They are the 11th group to be inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame, housed at the Cable Center here in Denver.

“Tampa Bay 5, Boston 0, top of the seventh inning,” was how Bodenheimer led off his speech, during that baseball playoff game. “Hey, serving sports fans is what we do.” By the way, the Red Sox came back to win in the bottom of the ninth inning, 8-7.

Bodenheimer said an early memory at ESPN was of driving from town to town, meeting with cable operator executives who inevitably would say, “This is a great sports town.” He quickly learned to reply: “I know -- that’s why I’m here.”

Green spoke of his pride at being in cable, an industry that variously faced doubts about whether it could deliver two-way video, make cable modems work or provide phone service. Now it’s the dominant broadband medium and is closing in on 20 million U.S. phone customers, he said. “I guess we showed them, didn’t we?”

Green also said the ability of cable companies to collaborate via CableLabs sets them apart and “demonstrates that we’re smarter and better than our competitors.”

Joslin, who, according to his video biography, grew up in foster homes in South Providence, R.I., said his grandfather taught him the importance of making the right choices in life. “We do create our own good luck,” he said. One such choice was to shift from a sales job in the steel industry to becoming a founder of Continental Cablevision. Another was to team with ABC’s Herb Granath on cable programming investments.

Packard, recruited from CNBC by Scripps’s Ken Lowe to help start HGTV in 1983, told about the time early on when the two had a meeting with “a very large cable operator” based in Denver. It started, late, with the cable-operator client declaring his company was not going to carry HGTV as compensation for carriage of Scripps TV stations. Packard stood up and declared the meeting over. Lowe afterward couldn’t understand what went wrong. Packard explained, “I actually thought it went pretty well -- this is just the first round. And he realized that our industry can be somewhat theatrical at times.”

Willner, who went last, joked that the Cable Center nominating committee thought in picking him they’d be getting a deep-pocketed former CEO who was “looking for a place to be philanthropic.” Instead, he said, “they have a hard-working old bloke like me, still chugging away at the cable industry.”

“Sorry, Larry,” Willner said to Cable Center CEO Larry Satkowiak, again alluding to Insight’s owners not selling the company after exploring the possibility of doing so in 2007. ”Maybe next year.”

Willner also joked that, as chairman of the Cable Center, he had emailed the inductees to ask them to keep their remarks brief in the interest of time. That is, he emailed everyone but Schlafly, who doesn’t have email and received a mailed note instead.

Willner said it was understandable Schlafly wouldn’t have an email address. Except that Schlafly “predicted the Internet.” He did so in an article published in 1956 in a science-fiction magazine, imagining what life would be like in the year 2000.

The Hall of Fame event shifted to the Colorado Convention Center from the Cable Center for the first time. It will be in the convention center again next October as part of the grouping of events known as Cable Connections: Fall.

The emcee, Marc Summers of Food Network series Unwrapped, kept his word to “keep the program moving,” and it ended at around 9:30 p.m.

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