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Cable Legend Rosencrans Dies

Robert Rosencrans, founder of UA-Columbia Cable and one of the pioneers in cable programming through the creation of the Madison Square Garden Network, later renamed USA Network, and one of the driving forces behind the creation of C-SPAN, died in Greenwich, Conn., earlier this week. He was 89 years old.

According to the Cable Center, Rosencrans first came on the cable scene in 1953, producing and distributing live television events to theaters and hotels through Box Office Television and later TelePrompTer Corp. In 1956, while planning the distribution of a heavyweight championship fight, Rosencrans granted a license to Bill Daniels to offer the fight to his cable customers in Casper, Wyo.,  a first for the cable business and the beginning of a collaboration that led to TelePrompTer purchasing several cable systems.

Rosencrans formed Columbia Cable Systems in 1961, acquiring systems in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and California, eventually growing it to more than 250,000 customers.

Columbia Cable was the first operator to install a satellite Earth Station to receive the feed of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight championship fight from Manila in 1975.

Two years later in 1977 Columbia set off on a venture to offer satellite delivered cable programming to the industry, joining with Madison Square Garden  to distribute its live events. The Madison Square Garden Network, later renamed the USA Network, was the first proprietary satellite basic cable network, according to the Cable Center.

MSG Network was one of the first channels to carry a fledging public service network, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN), which broadcast live coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rosencrans became the founding chairman of C-SPAN and an integral force in the network’s development.

Rosencrans wrote one of the first checks – for $25,000 – in support of C-SPAN, and convinced other cable operators to do the same. According to C-SPAN, Rosencrans helped C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb raise $450,000 in seed money which was used to create the infrastructure to send out the first live views of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 19, 1979 to 3.5 million homes served by 350 cable systems.

"I've never met a person who didn't respect Bob Rosencrans,” Lamb said in a statement. “He was not only interested in being a successful business person, but he was very interested in civic responsibility; he was conscious of the need to help others. Bob helped me tremendously by explaining to a start-up cable industry that it made sense for a network like C-SPAN to have a place.  He never wanted any personal credit for it, but if it hadn't been for Bob Rosencrans, there probably wouldn't be a C-SPAN. Bob was a tremendous human being."

Rosencrans sold Columbia Cable and its  500,000 customers to UA Theaters and Rogers Cable in 1984 and later that year he founded Columbia International, developing systems in Virginia, Michigan, Oregon, Washington and Nevada. Columbia International  was sold to Tele-Communications Inc., Cox and Jones Intercable in 1996. Rosencrans remained active with C-SPAN, serving as chairman emeritus and was elected to the Cable Hall of Fame in 1999.  

In a statement, the National Cable Telecommunications Association shared in C-SPAN's loss, adding that Rosencrans was a major architect in what became the modern cable industry. 

"Bob embodied the cable entrepreneur, investing time, money and sweat equity in the creation of products and services that have become vital to consumers," NCTA said in a statement. "His work with Brian Lamb and other colleagues, to create, build, and launch C-SPAN, was perhaps his most resonant and impactful achievement. He also, however, was a catalyst in creating first-generation cable content, in sports, general entertainment, premium entertainment, and information. And he built and managed many early cable systems that became precursors to today’s life-changing television and Internet infrastructure.  A major supporter of NCTA and our industry’s business and policy objectives, Bob Rosencrans epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit that forged our industry and helped change the way that Americans connect, communicate, learn, and are entertained.  We are indebted to his life’s work, and we offer sincere condolences to his family and friends."    

The Rosencrans family will hold private services this weekend with plans to hold a memorial service at a later date this fall.