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Those Were the Days

Cable pioneer Kenneth Gunter died last week at age 83. He ultimately helped run a large, publicly-traded cable company, UA-Columbia, with all the headaches — corporate marriages and divorces, investment bankers — of the big players.

But like so many eventual cable barons, Gunter was once an independent, running a system out of the back room of his family’s appliance store in San Angelo, Texas.

In 1991 he recalled, for a Cable Center oral history project, the franchise process of way back when. “As late as the ‘50s you could go into a town like San Angelo, which was then a population of 65,000, and the mayor, the city council and the city manager might have only recently heard of what cable television had done in a neighboring town from another manager or a mayor,” he said.

“There was little or nothing about it in the trade publications … and darn little coverage in newspapers,” he added. “It made the franchising process really a snap. If you went into the city council chamber as a known quantity, as we were in San Angelo in those days with my family being there many years, it wasn’t something that they were afraid to risk.

“You would walk in and say, ‘We want a franchise that permits us to use the city streets and alleyways. We are going to rent some telephone power poles and string these lines up and down the alleys and hook up some people and bring in some more TV stations,” he continued.

“‘When are you going to do it and what is a franchise supposed to say?’ were the only questions. So we would get together and just flesh out a franchise with the city attorney and it would read almost the way we wanted it to read.”