Cable Center Opens to Hall of Fame Crowd

The $15.5 million Cable Center here officially opened its doors to the industry last week, with a series of inaugural activities culminating in the induction of seven Hall of Fame honorees.

The fifth Hall of Fame class — and the first to be inducted at The Cable Center — included Dan Aaron, the late Edward Allen, Frank Drendel, Joseph Gans Sr., Edward (Ted) Rogers, Gene Schneider and Gail Sermersheim.

Some 800 attendees feted the seven inductees at the Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver, which houses the Cable Center.

Sharon Magness, wife of former Tele-Communications Inc. chairman Bob Magness, and Liberty Media Corp. chairman John Malone served as dinner co-chairs.

Perhaps the evening's most touching moment came with the induction of Aaron, the former Comcast Corp. president and co-founder, who has been stricken with Parkinson's disease.

Bresnan Communications president Bill Bresnan called Aaron "a special man who so well deserves tonight's special honor," and recounted how Aaron created the Dan Aaron Parkinson Disease Foundation after learning he had the disease.

"He continues to set an example for us all," Bresnan said.

Aaron read a short statement: "We were there at the beginning — the beginning of a remarkable industry and a remarkable company — Comcast."

He was joined in the audience by fellow Comcast co-founders Ralph Roberts and Julian Brodsky.

Bresnan recalled Ed Allen, a former National Cable Television Association chairman, as the consummate consensus builder.

"He always worked to make the right thing happen," Bresnan said of the former chairman and CEO of Western Communications Inc. Allen's wife, Geri, accepted the award.

Former Motorola executive Ed Breen inducted Drendel, chairman and CEO of CommScope Inc., recalling how Drendel bought and sold CommScope seven times in his career, yet always stayed in control of the company.

Breen said Drendel had a greater interest in building an industry than in building his own company, ran CommScope to serve his customers and was a great mentor for cable executives.

Fellow Pennsylvania cable operator Jim Duratz inducted Gans, chairman of Gans Multimedia Partnership, saying family and friends were an important part of Gans's success.

"Joe came up with the ideas, George Barco would fall for them and I had to go do them," Duratz said.

One of those ideas was the Pennsylvania Cable Network, an educational network founded in the 1970s and still going strong.

"I was fortunate to have a lot of good friends in the cable industry," Gans said.

Rogers Communications Inc. vice chairman Phil Lind described how Ted Rogers, the company's president and CEO, "had the ability to walk into deep trouble situations and pull victory out of certain defeat."

In the 1980s, Rogers had bought the San Antonio cable system — a purchase that involved a $1 million payment for TV rights to a small number of San Antonio Spurs National Basketball Association games, Lind recalled.

Rogers needed to renegotiate what was an onerous contract, Lind said, but the Spurs owner was a notoriously tough negotiator.

Lind recalled how he and Rogers showed up 27 minutes late for a lunch with the owner — who was livid and wondering about his $1 million payment. Rogers proceeded to open the doors, allowing in armed guards carrying bags and bags of money.

Lind said the owner was completely disarmed by Rogers's gesture and agreed to renegotiate.

"Ted knew the art of making a deal," Lind recalled the Spurs owner saying.

Rogers recalled his days of operating cable systems in the U.S. in the 1980s, and said every member of his former Stateside management team asked to join him at last week's dinner did so.

Cox Cable president Jim Robbins inducted Sermersheim, the former senior vice president and general manager of HBO. Robbins recalled how his then-young children couldn't pronounce Sermersheim's name when she called Jim at home in the mid-1980s. She became known as Gail Shimmy Shammy, he said — a name that continues to live among the Robbins clan.

Sermersheim was instrumental in creating the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing and Women In Cable and Telecommunications. "She made this world a better place," he said.

Malone inducted Schneider, chairman and CEO of UnitedGlobalCom Inc. Malone recalled his first meeting with Schneider — when the Liberty chairman was president of Jerrold Communications Inc. The two executives played pool in Schneider's basement and drank "three gallons of brandy."

Malone said Schneider helped fund the bailouts of both Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and Discovery Communications Inc. in the 1980s.

"Gene was there with his shoulder to the wheel," Malone said. "He committed to good ideas quickly."

In his opening remarks, Malone said that although cable faces troubles at present, the problems were worse back in 1975, when all cable stocks were in the $1 range.

"We survived that, but the industry is very challenged today," the longtime Tele-Communications Inc. CEO said. "We have a new generation of leadership. There is adequate technology and resources for this industry to prevail against its two principal competitors," provided cable shows the "creativity, drive and entrepreneurship it's shown in the past.

"The opportunities have never been as great. The values are becoming apparent."

Even the financial markets "potentially … will come around," Malone said.