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Hall of Famers Pay Tribute to Former Cox CEO Jim Robbins

Denver -- As cable feted six industry pioneers at the 10th Annual Cable Hall of Fame event here, several of those luminaries in turn paid tribute to former Cox Communications CEO Jim Robbins, who died Wednesday night.

“Jim was a terrific guy,” said former NBC Universal CEO Bob Wright, who earlier in his career was president of Cox. “He did a spectacular job … I’ve never been prouder of any organization I’ve been associated with than Cox Cable.”

Hall of Fame honoree Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, recalled Robbins as “a good friend.”

“He was one of the first people to move Disney Channel to basic [cable],” she said. “I have to wonder if I’d be standing here tonight if it weren't for him.”

At the beginning of the evening, Bill Bresnan, CEO of Bresnan Communications and the outgoing chairman of the Cable Center, delivered a brief eulogy for Robbins, who was inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame last year.

“His legacy lives on … It lives in our personal conduct and in this Cable Center,” Bresnan said, then reciting a verse from “Anchors Aweigh” in memory of Robbins, a U.S. Navy veteran.

Meanwhile, Hall of Fame inductee Doug Dittrick, CEO of Douglas Communications Corp. II, urged industry executives to devote time and energy to charitable causes. Eight years ago Dittrick founded an orphanage in Haiti, which now provides a home for 550 boys.

“I would suggest … you consider what you can do to help others in this world,” Dittrick said.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, honored for his more than 30 years in the industry, was self-effacing in accepting his Hall of Fame award.

“I looked at a page of all the past honorees, and I wondered who in the world there was left to honor,” he said. “I’m not sure I belong here tonight, but I’m proud to be among those who came before me.”

Barbara York, senior vice president of industry affairs for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said it felt “surreal” to be in the Hall of Fame. Naming the past chief executives of the NCTA and current CEO Kyle McSlarrow, she said, “I stand here on your shoulders.”

The evening did have a few more lighthearted moments.

Master of ceremonies Tom Bergeron, host of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and America’s Funniest Homes Videos, introduced Vyyo chairman Jim Chiddix by noting that “he is credited with the creation of hybrid fiber-coax.” Bergeron then deadpanned, “I have no idea what I just said.”

Chiddix said that after graduating from Cornell University, he worked for a company with a “soul-crushing bureaucracy … I swore I would never work for a large company again.”

The joke: Chiddix, after moving to Hawaii to work on sailboats, would eventually find himself chief technology officer of Time Warner Cable.

Former Time Warner co-CEO Nick Nicholas, who presented Britt with his award, gave a lengthy introduction that included a recollection of the two executives’ experience at Manhattan Cable Television in the mid-’70s. It was a tough time in the business, Nicholas said: “We had 50,000 paying subscribers. God knows how many nonpaying subs we had.”

After Nicholas’ speech, Bergeron returned to the stage and quipped, “I think it’s great that we’ve been able to relive the inductees’ careers in real time.”

Wright, whose tenure at NBC included the launch of CNBC and MSNBC and the acquisition of Bravo, offered tales of two networks that got away when he was at Cox: ESPN and CNN.

Wright said he was very close to a deal that would have made Cox 40% owner of ESPN, majority owned by Getty Oil at the time. Then, “I had a chance two times with Ted Turner” on CNN. “We were very close to being a 50-50 partner, but Cox would have put up 100% of the money and Ted would have all the control,” Wright said. “That didn’t seem like a good idea at the time.”

The six inductees into the 2007 Cable Hall of Fame bring the total members to 65 since 1998.