Liberty, BendBroadband Founder Don Tykeson Dies

BendBroadband founder Don Tykeson—who parlayed a struggling TV station into MSO Liberty Communications before selling it to  John Malone's TCI—died July 12 at the age of 90 of what was described by theOregon Register-Guard newspaper as "multiple sclerosis and age-related causes."

After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1951, Tykeson got an ad sales job at the Oregon Journal but moved to TV, first with pioneering UHF TV station KPTV Portland, then acquiring an interest in KEZI Eugene. The seeds had been planted for Liberty Communications, which Tykeson helped build into a broadcast and top-20 cable company before selling to TCI in 1983.

But Tykeson wasn't done, he invested in TV, cable and pager operations in Oregon, purchasing Bend Cable (later BendBroadband) in 1984.

His daughter, Amy, took over BendBroadband in 1997, herself a member of the Cable Center Hall of Fame. BendBroadband was sold to Telephone and Data Systems in 2014.

Tykeson said his business mantra was to "make sure that we are on the cutting edge of new technologies without being too close to the blade." He said in a video for his daughter's induction that BendBroadband had been among the first into digital and cable telephony.

Don Tykeson had MS, which spurred him to build that communications empire as a way to take control over his future. “I knew I needed to be bold and take some risks,” he told the National Multiple Sclerosis Society—he was an honorary director. “In that sense, MS has served me well.”

Tykeson and his wife, Willie—they celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary July 1—also leveraged that diagnosis into philanthropy, funding tens of millions of dollars in MS research at the University of Oregon, the Tykeson Fellows Conference forum, and other philanthropic endeavors, including a new OU College and Careers Building. He was a great believer in the value of a liberal arts education.

"From our earliest days, Don Tykeson, one of our original board members starting in 1978, was an enthusiastic supporter of C-SPAN," said C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb. "He passed that on to his daughter Amy who eventually also served as a terrific presence on the C-SPAN Board. Don was civic-minded…just a fine person…a true gentleman." Don Tykeson served on the C-SPAN Board in 1978 – 1989; Amy in 2017-2015.

“Don Tykeson was a pioneering entrepreneur in our field," said NCTA: The Internet & Television Association president & CEO Michael Powell. "His commitment to the people of central Oregon – through his work in bringing cable, broadband and television to the region – was unmatched. His leadership in our industry at a pivotal time in cable’s development was key to the success of community-based cable operators everywhere, and that legacy lives on through the companies and organizations he and his family built. Just as extraordinary was his lifelong commitment to public service, in health, education, business, and the arts. Evidence of that commitment also was Don’s service as an original and enthusiastic member of the C-SPAN Board of Directors, promoting good and transparent government. NCTA benefitted greatly from Don’s participation on our Board of Directors in the 1970s and 80s, as well as from a new generation of Tykeson leadership, from his beloved daughter Amy, who also served on our board. We offer our sincerest condolences to Don’s family and friends, and we’ll always miss the great vigor and insight that he brought to our industry.”

Survivors include his wife, Willie, daughters Ellen and Amy, and a son, Eric. A memorial service is planned for July 22, according to the newspaper.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.