The 2015 Cable Hall of Fame inductees include major players from across the wide spectrum of cable professionals, from major dealmakers to technology mavens to pioneering programmers to an on-air presence familiar to anyone who makes the National Football League a part of their Sundays (and Monday nights).
Six new members will join other industry notables in a ceremony set for Tuesday, May 5, at Chicago’s Navy Pier during INTX: The Internet & Television Expo. They are: Chris Berman, sportscaster, ESPN; Bill Roedy, global health ambassador and former chairman, MTV Networks International; Steve Simmons, chairman, Patriot Media and Communications; JC Sparkman, chief operating officer (retired), Tele-Communications Inc.; Tony Werner, executive vice president and chief technology officer, Comcast; and Eleanor Winter, senior vice president, National Cable & Telecommunciations Association.
It is a pleasure to announce the six new members of our Cable Hall of Fame,” Michael Willner, president and CEO of GreatLand connections and chairman of the Hall of Fame selection committee, said in a statement. “From programming visionaries to technology trendsetters, they exemplify the spirit of innovation that has helped to drive and build this industry.”
C-SPAN senior executive producer and political editor Steve Scully will emcee the celebration.
Also to be honored at the Hall of Fame ceremonies is Decker Anstrom, recipient of the 2015 Bresnan Ethics in Business Award, named in honor of the late William Bresnan, founder and chairman of Bresnan Communications and longtime chairman of The Cable Center board.
Currently a member of the board of Discovery Communications and of several nonprofit environmental groups, Anstrom served as president of Landmark Communications and chairman of The Weather Channel Cos. from 2002 until his 2008 retirement. He was president and CEO of the National Cable Television Association (now the National Cable & Telecommunications Association) from 1994 until 1999, when he left to join The Weather Channel Cos. as president and CEO.
During his tenure atop NCTA, he led the cable industry’s effort to shape the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He first joined the trade group in 1987 as executive VP.
“The Bresnan Ethics in Business Award is not only a wonderful honor, but also a very humbling one,” Anstrom said in a statement. “I loved and respected Bill so much — and the previous recipients have all been true giants of our industry.”
Added Bob Miron, retired chairman and CEO of Bright House Networks and chairman of the Bresnan Award selection committee: “Decker’s leadership has helped to shape our industry into the thriving, innovating business it is today.”
Special thanks to Erica Stull, Stull WordWorks, for honoree profiles.
No one embodies cable’s triumphant rise as a sports powerhouse better than Chris Berman. It’s no coincidence that his 35-year career at ESPN parallels the network’s growth — it’s hard to imagine one without the other.
Berman always knew what he wanted to be. As a kid, he said: “I was captivated by sports, turning down the sound on hockey games and trying to announce them. I knew it was my calling.”
A history major at Brown University, Berman found his way to the student radio station and newspaper during his first week on campus. His advice to aspiring student sportscasters? “Go somewhere where you have to think, read and write,” he said. “Major in history, political science, English … and do sports coverage on the side. You’ll do a lot of work that isn’t for credit, and you’ll find out if you love it.”
After graduation in 1977, Berman covered high-school sports for radio stations in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and then moved to television as weekend sports anchor with the Hartford NBC affiliate. When he joined ESPN in 1979, he was 24 and the network was one month old.
“There were just 70 of us,” he recalled. “Most of us in our 20s and 30s. It’s amazing we didn’t drive the car off the road.”
Since then, ESPN has become known as “the Worldwide Leader in Sports,” and Berman has become a household name, honored six times as National Sportscaster of the Year. In 2010 he received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport.
For Berman, sports is “one of the last melting pots we have. I can have the same intelligent conversation with a millionaire or with a guy shining shoes.” On one trip to cover a baseball game, “I landed in Cleveland and talked with the cab driver about the Indians, and I was better-equipped to do the game the next day than if I had read [about the team] for two hours.”
Comparing sports with rock ‘n’ roll music, another passion, Berman said: “We’re all listening to the same music, and we all grew up following the same sports. It’s a connection where we didn’t know we had one.”
William H. Roedy
Global health ambassador
And Former chairman and CEO
MTV networks international
Bill Roedy likes to say his remarkable career has taken him “from the Iron Curtain to the red carpet; from the DMZ to MTV.” a graduate of the U.S. Military academy at West Point, Roedy’s first leadership position was in Vietnam. He went on to command three NaTO nuclear missile bases in Italy, but realized that a military career wasn’t for him.
The son of a single mother, Roedy recalled that some of his family’s happiest times were spent at his grandmother’s house, “all gathered around the TV, watching Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan, whatever was on.” a career in television was an early dream. In 1979, with a fresh MBa from Harvard Business School and a $50-per-week TV-station internship under his belt, Roedy joined HBO as a national account manager. Based in Los angeles, he quickly moved up the programmer’s sales and distribution ladder.
MTV Networks came calling in 1989, and Roedy moved to London to focus on European expansion. Eventually, he took MTV to the world.
Roedy’s approach to distribution was to be “aggressive, creative, relentless.” Second: “Develop a channel reflective of each culture. To paraphrase Ted Turner, we were local before local was cool.”
The third part of the Roedy method has been the most profound.
“Doing good is good for business,” he said.
In the early ’90s, half of new HIV/aIDS infections were among people younger than 25. “That was our audience,” Roedy said. His leadership of MTVN International’s “Staying alive” educational campaign and Staying alive Foundation made a life-saving impact on teenage viewers. In 1998, Roedy was named ambassador for the United Nations’s UNaIDS program. In 2005, United Nations Secretary- General Kofi annan named him founding chair of the Global Media aIDS Initiative. Today, Roedy spends more than 50% of his time on global health.
When Roedy retired from MTV Networks International in 2011, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman paid tribute to his colleague’s “innate respect for diverse traditions, and a creative sensibility that speaks every language and builds bridges around the world.”
Roedy “is a true force of nature and a committed global citizen who has quite literally ‘been there and done that,’ ” Dauman said.
Patriot Media and Communications
You can count on one finger the cable entrepreneurs who have entered the industry via academia, served as a White House aide and wrote best-selling children’s books. Steve Simmons is unique.
A Harvard Law School grad, Simmons became a tenured associate professor of communications and constitutional law at the University of California at Irvine. His book on the Fairness Doctrine and his political work caught the eye of the Carter White House.
In 1977, he was named assistant director of the White House Domestic Policy Staff, where his work on communications policy included lifting the regulatory burden on the cable industry.
Then the entrepreneurial bug bit. “I felt that cable was the future,” Simmons said.
After learning the ropes, Simmons struck out on his own. Despite many investor rejections, he landed venture funding to purchase a cable property in Vermont.
“My theory was to buy smaller systems, upgrade the plant, improve customer service, add channels, and revamp marketing and sales.” The strategy worked and Simmons Communications was on its way to ultimately serving more than 300,000 customers in 20 states.
By 1988, re-regulation of the cable industry loomed. Simmons organized the Entrepreneurs Club, a group of midsized cable operators that he has now chaired for 27 years. Despite their lobbying efforts, the 1992 Cable Act passed — one factor in Simmons’s decision to unwind SCI. By 1995, the properties were sold and Simmons was enjoying family life.
Simmons had always told stories to his five young children, following his mother’s example when he was a child. He wrote his first children’s story, Alice and Greta: A Tale of Two Witches, in 1997.
“After being rejected by 15 publishers, and 23 rewrites, it finally got published,” he recalled.
The picture book eventually became a best-seller, and was followed by four more. The experience reinforced some valuable advice for entrepreneurs: “First, don’t give up. No. 2, don’t accept common knowledge.”
Continuous creativity and recognizing the contributions of others round out the lessons learned, Simmons said.
Simmons applied that wisdom when he launched Patriot Media in 2002 with the purchase of RCN’s Central New Jersey systems. Patriot now has ownership in and manages companies serving more than 700,000 customers.
Simmons’ successful return to cable proves Alice and Greta’s “Brewmerang Principle:” “Whatever you chant, whatever you brew, sooner or later comes back to you.”
Chief Operating Officer (Retired)
In a 2001 interview for The Cable Center’s Oral History Project, journalist Paul Maxwell asked J.C. Sparkman what “J.C.” stood for. “Just J.C.,” Sparkman replied. “I came from a poor family. We couldn’t afford first names.”
The joke hints at Sparkman’s efficiency and fiscal management skills — qualities that made his company’s spectacular growth possible.
Sparkman’s cable career began in 1956. After leaving the Air Force, he had a job waiting with Boeing in Seattle. A friend convinced him to instead join A&J Distributors, an Idaho equipment distributor that also built cable systems in the Northwest. He moved on to Kansas City to manage a Jerrold Electronics office, then to Philadelphia as the company’s national sales manager.
“Bob Magness was one of my biggest customers,” Sparkman recalled. “He said, ‘When are you going to get tired of Philadelphia?’ ”
In 1969, Magness hired Sparkman to manage operations for Denver-based Tele-Communications Inc., a 56,000-customer company. “I had fun until the day I retired” 30 years later, Sparkman said.
During his 26 years as TCI’s chief operations officer, Sparkman ran a tight ship as the company grew through acquisition. For several years during his tenure, TCI doubled in size every 18 months. When he left the TCI board of directors in 1999, TCI was the nation’s largest cable MSO, serving 18.5 million customers.
During those high-growth years, Sparkman said his greatest challenge was integrating acquired cable operations.
“One of my biggest successes was the management team we were able to build,” he said. “They were unbelievable in how fast they could integrate a company.”
Famously frugal, Sparkman was an early believer in the educational potential of cable and helped found Cable in the Classroom and the J.C. Sparkman Center for National Teacher Training, a national facility that educated teachers in classroom technology, free of charge. “I didn’t look at it as a cost factor,” he said. “We felt it was a good investment for the future.”
Sparkman remains enthusiastic about the industry he helped build. “I’m still a strong believer in the future of cable,” he said. “If you look at what the cable industry has done for communications across the world, the contribution has been tremendous.”
Executive Vice President
And Chief Technology Officer
As a kid in Minnesota, Tony Werner was a dedicated tinkerer.
“I loved technology, cars, building things,” he said. “When transistors were almost first available, I’d get kits and build radios.”
To earn money in high school, Werner repaired televisions. Armed with a telecommunications degree from Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minn., Werner joined the cable industry and Silsbee Cablevision, a 1,000-customer cable operator near Beaumont, Texas. “I was fascinated with the technology,” he said, “how it worked, what it did. I had no idea what it would become.”
Werner was an engineering manager for WGN’s cable operating division in 1975 when the HBO satellite went up — the beginning of national network distribution. He remembers when the dish for the brand-new technology was installed. And he laughed recalling a temporary HBO fadeout: “A tech who was on call went in and started moving the earth station to pick up the HBO signal. Our chief engineer had to tell him the satellite hadn’t moved and he should leave the dish alone.”
After a stint at RCA, Werner joined Rogers Communications, where he spent 13 memorable years in positions including president of operations, working in the U.S. and Canada. “I cherish moments working with Ted Rogers and the Rogers organization,” he said. “It was during the franchise boom. We were acquiring franchises and building cable systems out of the whole cloth. That was when you could tell you’d captured lightning in a bottle.”
Later, as chief technology officer with Tele-Communications Inc./AT&T Broadband, Werner led the development of a coherent network and engineering strategy to integrate the company’s collection of acquired cable systems. As TCI became AT&T Broadband, Werner encountered his greatest challenge. “I was responsible for launching three products: digital television, high-speed modems, and telephone. All three were unproven.”
In 2001, Werner was named chief technology officer of Liberty Media and subsequently Liberty Global to lead the company’s global strategy for video, voice and data services. He had been there for five years when Comcast hired him as chief technology officer.
Werner’s advice to the next generation of cable executives and engineers: “Hitch yourself to the right company. Pick a company you believe is going to grow. Stay absolutely current on the technology and the business, and always work hard.”
Senior Vice President
Hardly anybody loves national politics these days, but Washington, D.C,. has a big fan in Eleanor Winter. As a child in Mississippi, Winter grew up believing she’d eventually live and work in the nation’s capital city.
Her father, Gov. William Winter, often took the family to the nation’s capital during his political career. “Politics was in my blood, and I just always thought I’d be in D.C.,” she said.
Winter’s first job out of college was on Capitol Hill. “I started in Sen. [John] Stennis’s front office. I gave visitors tours of the Capitol — you could go anywhere then,” in less security-conscious times. “It was a wonderful way to be introduced to D.C.”
When Winter joined Stennis in the ’80s, the Mississippi Democrat had been in office for more than 30 years. After advancing on his team, Winter next joined the staff of newly elected Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.). “I went from working for the most senior Democrat to a Senate freshman, both of them wonderful men.” Winter next joined public relations firm, Cribben, Miller and Moses, where she raised money for political and charitable organizations.
In 1988, then-National Cable Television Association chairman and CEO Decker Anstrom asked Winter to run CablePAC, the cable industry’s largest political action committee. She knew little about cable at the time, but quickly learned her way around the industry. Said Winter, “Fundraising is fundraising, but you must believe in the cause to be effective.” Since joining what is now called the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, she has been most surprised by the industry’s amazing growth. “I don’t think anybody could have imagined where we would be today,” she said.
“It really did explode.” In 1998, she was named senior director of special projects for NCTA’s Government Relations department, advancing to her current post in 2006.
A strong advocate for the cable cause, Winter said: “I’ve never felt the cable industry has gotten the credit it deserves for all the jobs and technical advances it has created.”
Beyond her pride in promoting cable’s accomplishments, she said, “the thing I’ve loved most about this job is the relationships. The industry always felt like family to me.”