In Tribute To Tech Translator Roger Brown

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A black cloud gloomed over cable’s technical community last week, as we awaited the death of one of our cherished peers, Roger Brown, who ran sister publication CED magazine as editorial director and publisher. He died at home in Colorado on Oct. 5.

In mid-September, when many of us were in New York for activities surrounding the Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner, Roger and his family got terrifying news from his doctors: cancer lacing through his liver; spleen triply enlarged. This after he was told in July that the week-long biochemotherapy treatments he endured earlier in the year had triumphed in killing the melanoma cells that were trying to kill him.

Outside of technical circles, Roger Brown was less-known for his contributions to this industry. That’s why this week’s “translation” will focus on Roger, who was unquestionably our most gifted technology translator. Losing him is like losing a supporting wall in our collective industrial house.

All of us who know and love Roger spent the past three weeks struggling under the heaviness of the news. Near the end, Rog told me that he was approaching a place of calm. “It’s not my style to go out bitter,” he said. “It’s not who I am.”

Then, Roger and his wife of 22 years, Birdy, asked me to speak at his service. As my head exploded, I somehow registered that Roger was planning his “last issue.” My job, along with colleague and friend Rob Stuehrk, is to describe Roger’s impact on this industry. This is a practice run.

JOURNALIST FIRST

Roger was a journalist first. He lived objectivity. He loathed hyperbole, and struck it with pleasure from anything slated to run in the magazine. In showdowns over editorial integrity versus lost ad revenue, editorial won: Even irritated advertisers come back to good magazines.

As a reporter, Roger was the Master of the Pause. We’d do interviews together sometimes. I learned to let him take over toward the end, to deliver some variation of “So, what else is going on?” Then we’d shut up. Completely. The strain of the silence often invoked a juicy nugget that led the resultant story.

As a writer, Roger clarified without insulting. He wasn’t afraid to tackle controversy (technology contains big vats of it) or mind-twisting topics. As an editor, he was light-handed and fair.

Many Roger fans wrote to me last week that Roger is the magazine. He ran CED for nearly two decades, through eight corporate owners and always with that twinkly smile pouring out from page 4.

Industry elder Joe Van Loan lauds Roger for being “like a sea anchor — he has a way of keeping us from whip-sawing around at every new thing to come along.”

The words describing Roger last week from his peers, colleagues, elders and expansive fan club were these: “Humble.” “Fair.” “Non-pretentious.” “Friendly.” “A beacon of candor in a dark room.” “Deliberate.” “Kind.” “Trustworthy.” “Remarkably accessible.”

That last one strikes a strong chord. Roger is the rarity who puts down his pen, turns away from the computer, ignores his phones, and focuses on you when you enter his work area (press room, office, wherever).

“Within the pages of this technical magazine, Roger managed to reconcile the practical with the theoretical, and he managed to do so in a way that kept every reader’s interest,” said Dom Stasi, the chief technology officer for TVN Entertainment Corp., and a friend of Roger’s. “He was out to inform, not to impress. That was his genius.”

Those of you who read this column regularly know that I’m reluctant to blather on about myself — a tenet I learned from Roger. Yet, in this case, I feel compelled to note that, in April, I dedicated my National Cable & Telecommunications Association Vanguard Award to him.

Roger was the only individual I mentioned by name when accepting the award. I thanked him for teaching me not to be afraid of technology, and for introducing me to the technologists who take the time to describe things well. (I didn’t thank him for introducing me to an eclectic guy named Doug, who became my husband. But I could have, because he did.)

When Roger asked me to speak of him, I asked him how he wanted to be remembered. He said he wanted to be remembered as someone who treated people as he wanted to be treated.

For me, that legacy started 15 years ago, when Roger and I were trolling new products at a trade show. We happened upon a new amplifier, and I asked an unnamed technology ego, standing nearby, what was different about it. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it,” the ego said. “It just has lots of bells and whistles.”

Roger didn’t miss a beat. “Back off, (name of ego),” he said — with gusto. He became my big brother that day, and stayed that way ever since.

It was a great honor to be Roger Brown’s “little sister,” at least in an industry sense. When it comes to family, Roger’s non-verbals are charming. Like how his eyes would well up as he related the day-to-day doings of his kids — Tony (17), Cayleigh (14), Nick (12) and Allie (7). Then he’d pretend to yawn and stretch, as if to cover the moisture in his eyes.

Roger won’t read this, or any of the “assignments” he gave us in his last days. That heightens the honor — but doesn’t do much to lift the black cloud of void.

Editor’s Note: Contributions to the Brown family can be made by check to the Roger Brown Family Account, c/o First American State Bank, 8390 E. Crescent Parkway, Suite 100, Greenwood Village, Colo., 80111.

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