Early Television
 
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Early Television Museum

Steve McVoy and Cable Television

I grew up in Gainesville, Florida, in the late 40s and early 50s. After finishing high school in Gainesville, I attended Cornell University. However, I wasn't cut out for college, and dropped out after two years. I moved to New York City in 1963, and then went back to Florida to join the voter registration campaign that was being run by the civil rights organization CORE. The project's goal was to register African-Americans to vote in counties in northern Florida, where most were not registered.

Early Television

After the 1964 election, I moved back to Gainesville and started a television repair business. I was also instrumental in starting a community center in a black neighborhood in Gainesville. The center provided after school and weekend activities for teens, and vocational education for adults.

Early Television

TV repair and master antenna installation office

In 1966 I began installing master antenna systems in apartment buildings and motels, with my partner Richard Reynolds. However, this was the time that cable TV was starting in Gainesville and other medium sized towns, and our business began to decline. I had been following cable television technology, and realized that small towns, which were being ignored by the large cable companies, could be wired using master antenna technolgy. I found a partner, Barry Silverstein, a law professor at the Univesity of Florida, and an ex-businessman. Barry provided the financing, and I provided the technological expertise.

 

Micanopy Cable TV

We formed a company called Micanopy Cable TV, named after a community south of Gainsville with a population of about 600. Our first system was built in Micanopy, using underground contstruction techniques.

Early Television

The tower, built in a swamp, the only available land

Micanopy Cable TV charged $5 a month for service, which consisted of 5 TV channels, FM radio, and background music. The service delivered the 3 commercial networks and PBS. Without cable only CBS and PBS could be received. There were about 200 homes in the town, and 160 of them subscribed to cable. Here is a brochure.

With the success of the service, we decided to expand into other small towns in Florida. The first of these was High Springs, which was considerably larger, with almost 1000 homes.

Cable TV Work is to be Finished in a Month
Rotary Hears Story of Cable TV Progress
Micanopy Cable TV Staff
Outlook Growing Brighter for Area Cable TV Company

The company then obtained franchises (licenses) to build systems in other states, including Alabama and Georga. Here are pictures of our construction crews in a town in southern Georgia.

Coaxial Communications

In the early 70s the FCC had rules that prohibited cable companies from importing channels from other cities into the larger markets. Of course, this made it impossible for cable to get subscribers in these areas (this was before HBO and satellite delivered networks like CNN, MTV, etc.). It became obvious that these rules, which were designed to protect local broadcasters, would eventually be revoked. In anticipation of this, Barry, me, and a new partner, Dennis McGillicuddy, began to get franchises in larger cities, and obtained financial support from a large insurance company. Here is a brochure that was used our franchising activity.

The first large city that was constructed was Columbus, Ohio. In 1972 the rules did change, and the new company, Coaxial Communications, was allowed to bring in three non-network stations from Cincinnati and Cleveland via microwave networks that we built. In 1976 HBO, CNN, MTV, TNN, WGN and a few other channels were made available on a communication satellite. This made it possible for the system to attract a large number of subscribers.

Coaxial Communications eventually had about a dozen large cities under franchise. However, the insurance company that was financing the construction underwent a hostile takeover, and the new management was not interested in cable TV. Coaxial and that company entered several years of court fights, which ended with Coaxial maintaining ownership of the Columbus system, but without the means to finance the construction of cable in other cities.

Coaxial eventually built or acquired systems around Cincinnati, and in rural areas of Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. At its peak, the company had about 160,000 customers.

Telecinema

Coaxial began a R and D department in about 1973. My role included being the technical director of the cable systems and the director of the R and D operation. We developed a pay-per-view technology, using the two-way capabilities of cable, and acquired patents on the concept. In 1975 we launched a pay movie service called Telecinema, which offered four channels of movies, and had the capability of billing subscribers for what they watched.

Early Television

By 1976 we had over 6000 customers. The system worked from a technological standpoint, but was a finacial failure. We discontinued it a year later, and introduced HBO to our customers in its place. Many of Telecinema's employees went on to work for Time-Warner, which developed the Qube service, in many ways based on our technology.

In 1999 we decided it was time to leave the business. New services, such as internet access and telephone over cable, would require massive amounts of capital, and it was becoming more and more difficult for a medium-sized company lke ours to prosper. We sold all our cable holdings, and I started my second "career", running the Early Television Museum.