In the 41 years since the Cable Pioneers organization was formed at an early National Cable Television Association show, over 500 honorees have been chosen from among cable’s greatest visionaries and leaders.
The purpose of the Cable Pioneers is to preserve and celebrate the industry’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. It has also evolved into a virtual Who’s Who of the most influential individuals who have helped shape the cable industry.
“We wanted it to be more than a social organization and to remain active in the industry. All of the Pioneers have had an impact on the industry,” said Ben Conroy, a founder and past chairman of the Cable Pioneers.
Dave Willis, former director of engineering for Tele-Communications Inc. and a 1982 inductee who began his cable career in 1955, typifies the pioneers’ can-do spirit. “We had no SCTE [Society of Cable Television Engineers] to help train us in building a cable system. So we did the best we could,” he said. “People were concerned that by showing all of these channels, the televisions would wear out. I hadn’t even seen a TV until I returned from the Korean War.”
This year’s class includes the pioneering McGinty brothers, who built the Atlantic City and Southern New Jersey systems in the mid-1950s. Building the systems meant laying cable under two waterways and the Atlantic City boardwalk — no simple task.
“We used an old lobster boat and a reel of cable and lowered the cable into the water with cinder blocks hooked up to it,” said Rob McGinty. “Divers stuck the cable into the mud. But it broke down a lot, especially during [the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers] playoff games.”
The class of 2007 is a particularly diverse group, from operators to engineers, programmers to marketers, this year’s pioneers even include a father and daughter, as well as a triumvirate of brothers.
“I worked my way through college selling cable door-to-door, and 32 years later I’m still knocking on doors, but in a different way,” said Bob Halgas, CEO of RCH Outsourcing Services.
For fellow Pioneer Bill Goetz, it was climbing poles and into crawl spaces that launched his pioneering cable career. “I entered cable when a system in Trenton was being built. I was in crawl spaces and climbed poles. But it was fun to be so close to a growing industry,” he said.
For Jim Gleason, being named a Cable Pioneer means joining his similarly honored father and brother. “I’ve always found cable to be fascinating. From the day dad taught me how to climb poles, I’ve done about everything since,” said Gleason, who grew up at his father’s system, Galaxy Cablevision.
It’s also a family matter for this year’s father and daughter honorees Don and Amy Tykeson. “I’ve been lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and to join my dad in running a family business,” said Amy Tykeson, CEO of BendBroadband.
This year’s Cable Pioneers will be honored at a May 7 dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, as part of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show.