Positively Rockabilly

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The venue was Pier 60 in New York city's trendy Chelsea section. The event: Cable Positive's fifth annual fundraiser to heighten the industry's awareness of AIDS.

The Rockabilly-themed gala broke records by raising more than $1.5 million to battle this dread disease, which has already ravaged too many from within cable's ranks.

This year's event honored Cablevision Systems Corp. president and CEO Jim Dolan, recipient of 2001's Joel A. Berger award for his work to battle AIDS.

That was the disease that prematurely snuffed out the life of Berger, who was publisher of Multichannel News. He had worked with Cable Positive since 1992; the disease claimed his live on April 26, 1995.

But last week's fundraiser at Chelsea Piers would have made Joel a very happy camper. It was a touching evening on all fronts — several thousand cable guys and gals turned out to party and support a cause that had less to do with the bottom line than the fragile state of life itself.

The night had an upbeat ending, as Dolan played guitar onstage with Brian Setzer and "Little Steven" Van Zandt. The jam session followed a fun-packed gala that included an auction of several vintage guitars, signed by rock stars, which raised more money for Cable's Positive's coffers.

The required Rockabilly attire proved challenging and — as usual — the cable crowd was pretty creative in dressing the part. My personal best-dressed vote (though I'm biased) goes to our own Charlie Paikert, the managing editor of Cablevision
magazine, who looked like he stepped right out of central casting.

But clearly, the most touching moments on that memorable evening occurred when Dolan himself got up to speak to accept the award.

"In some ways I relate to AIDS. I am an alcoholic and chemically dependent, and I have been in recovery for nine years," he said, starting out slowly and trying to find his voice for a message that could not have been easy to deliver in front of a few thousand people.

He didn't have to go there, but he did, much to his credit. He began haltingly, saying he saw some similarities between his illness and AIDS — both diseases go "underground," due to their social stigma.

He spoke from the heart about the physical and the emotional effects of AIDS, telling a story about an employee who had the courage to come to him to say that he had AIDS and was seeking treatment.

"Nobody grows up saying, 'I want to be an alcoholic or have AIDS,' " he said. And in some respects, he added, the social impact of AIDS hurts more than its physical toll.

He challenged each person in the crowd to ask himself or herself how they would react if they suddenly found out that the person sitting next to them that evening was HIV positive.

Would you be "fearful and worried, or compassionate?" he asked, reminding his audience that one can't catch AIDS from shaking someone's hand.

I take my hat off to Dolan for not only supporting the Cable Positive cause, but for having the courage to speak from the heart about his own personal struggles.

He ended his acceptance speech by imploring cable systems and networks alike to run the new flight of public service announcements from Cable Positive, which become available June 27.

And I urge you to do the same.

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