Cable Old Timers Who Can't Get Enough of Each Other

Feeling lonely without a National Cable Show to attend about this time of year?

Check into the "Cable Old Timers" page on Facebook, and you'll see familiar faces and convention memories without the bother of sales pitches, new product frenzy, sore feet or frazzling flights.

This online adventure in nostalgia has attracted nearly 3,000 members in the few weeks since it went sort-of-viral, said Mark Solow, who set up the page several years ago but "never did anything with it."

In late April, he and other cable veterans in the Dallas area attended the funeral of "Cable Pioneer extraordinaire Tom Soulsby" (as Solow calls the late executive from Sammons and other cable systems and a former Texas Cable TV Association president). Some friends suggested that Solow revive an old local event -- a periodic lunch of Dallas-Fort Worth cable TV personnel.

Instead, Solow went home and "stayed up until 2 in the morning" making a list of about 80 local people to join his moribund Facebook page called "Cable Old Timers."

"When I woke up the next morning, there were 200 people, and within two days, it was more than 1,000," said Solow, whose day job is vice president of Uplifttv. People invited other old colleagues, and the network effect kicked in as friends invited more friends. Within days, people from all over the country were in the group, with many listing their cable career stops and posting pictures from old conventions and their favorite keepsake souvenirs.

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One of Solow's original requirements to join the private group was that "part of your cable career was in DFW," but he has since thrown it open to people who have 20-plus years of cable experience. Anyone meeting that criterion can ask to join the group. (Disclosure: I have resurrected a few photos from the 1970s and '80s and have invited a few geezers to join the memory-fest.)

Meaningful Careers

Cable Old Timers include a mix of operations, programming and technical/engineer experience. Many of the participants focus on the importance of cable in their lives, often citing -- with substantial passion -- how great it felt to be part of a growing business in the '70s and '80s.

In the typical, telescoped Facebook fashion of older users, they reminisce about important memories, such as:

"Cable was very exciting at that time, and I was lucky to be a part of it."

"Many friends along the way became my cable family, a wonderful career."

"Great seeing everyone else’s amazing achievements within this group!"

"I couldn’t have picked a better career... 39 years, 2 months and 27 days... the greatest times, memories and people."

"@Home, RoadRunner and HSA [High Speed Access Corp.] among others...changed the world: Broadband for the better."

"This industry's people are Awesome."

"I've made so many friends made through the years. ...I have evolved with the industry. ... I have been blessed knowing you!"

"Great career; always loved the business. Miss the people."

There is extensive photo sharing, including lots of pictures of people with '80s big hair and rakish mustaches. Many participants reminisce over memories of their entry into the cable business, drop names of influential industry executives and laud colleagues and mentors; they offer memorials to those who have died. Some of the entries offer history lessons, such as this:

"Jerrold was one of the largest MSOs ... until the operators and owners put their foot down and told the manufacturers to stop getting franchises and to just make equipment."

And there are countless references to early career stops, including long-defunct operators and networks, ranging from Teleprompter Cable, Jones Intercable and Group W Cable to Z Channel, Satellite News Channel and Graff Pay Per View, among many others.

Several participants have encouraged others to chronicle their first cable jobs, which generated an avalanche of memories and confessions:

  • Installer making $4.25 per hour
  • Sold cable door-to-door while in college
  • Strand-mapping
  • Learned how to climb poles 

Inevitably, amid all the photos from decades of NCTA conventions, Western Shows and state association conferences, many participants have called for some kind of mass reunion.

Jana Henthorn, president/CEO of The Cable Center, quickly responded.

"I've got just the place. ... We're in Denver and accessible to both coasts," she posted. "Plus, that's what the Center is here for! To be a gathering place for the cable industry. I'd love to see all my cable peeps!"

Related: Jana Henthorn Named WICT Rocky Mountain’s ‘Woman of the Year’

No concrete plans have emerged, but Solow said that he's still amazed at the intense involvement.

"I wasn't trying to do that," he told me. "I was trying to use Facebook like I do with my bicycling group," for keeping local friends in touch about local activities.

He isn't predicting what will happen next, although if the typical social media faddish cycle plays out, the current enthusiastic banter on Cable Old Timers will eventually peter out. It may be sustained by some new members, albeit the growth has diminished in the past week.

Nonetheless, the frenzy of activity underscored the enthusiasm of cable old timers -- and (since many seem to be retired) gave them something to do at this time of year when they thought they should be attending an industry convention.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.