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The story of cable64 years of success

Harry C. Alford | 12/5/2012, 5 p.m.

It seems so natural today. Having cable television in our homes, giving us a vast selection of channels from which to choose, is a given condition for the vast majority of us. I can remember in my early years it was not like that. We had the three networks and a few local channels. A Black face on television doing something productive was very few and far between. When the great singer Nat King Cole got his own television show in Los Angeles we were all so proud. Our music was available to us and we were indeed becoming a valuable part of American culture. Gone are those simple years that discounted and downplayed Black intellect, talent and culture.

It was 1948, when entrepreneurs would introduce cable television to three markets--Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania. They would service the mountain areas of these states where normal television signals were extremely difficult to pick up. In just four years, there were 70 cable systems servicing over 14,000 households. By the 1960s, there were more than 850,000 households and 800 cable providers. This was phenomenal growth, but was seen as a great threat to the local television owners. They convinced the federal government--Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)--to slow the pace down and bring in tighter controls through enhanced regulation.

Cable television hit an anemic growth rate throughout the 1960s because of that obstacle. They would limit cable operators offering movies, sporting events and syndicated programming. It was actually an assault on freedom of speech. Please keep in mind that the cable growth was coming from private funds such as venture capitalism and equity investment. There was not a drop of government money--county, state nor federal. This was true Americana as the founders of our government intended it to be.

The FCC was, in fact, a prohibitive entity to the growth of this new technology which targeted information, entertainment and thought.

Champions of the upstart cable industry finally convinced the government authorities to lessen the blockage they created and let this valuable technology grow and become available to the American marketplace. The demand should determine if it should expand and the demand was about to blow up to incredible levels. The creation of satellite technology along with friendlier regulation caused a spike in available capital. Great American entrepreneurs like Jack Kent Cooke, Charles Dolan and Ted Turner would gather the needed capital and revolutionize programming based on the demands of the American consumer. By 1980, nearly 16 million households were subscribing to cable companies. It was just the beginning.

As these entrepreneurs began to populate and jobs were being created exponentially, Black Americans happily found that they were included. Thank the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act for this. Local regulation and licensing would come from the city and county level. The face of city and county government had now become a "rainbow" in most local communities. The newly formed cable companies knew they had to be inclusive. Job hires, training and ownership were being "dipped in chocolate." Cable companies were coming with diversity in the entertainment and ownership industry.