Two Davids Walk Into A Bar: History of Cable (Audio Only)

Two Davids Walk Into A Bar: History of Cable “HBO”

Home Box Office (HBO) is an American premium cable and satellite television network that is owned by the namesake unit Home Box Office, Inc., a division of AT&T’s WarnerMedia. The program which featured on the network consists primarily of theatrically released motion pictures and original television shows, along with made-for-cable movies, documentaries and occasional comedy and concert specials.

HBO is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service (basic or premium) in the United States. In 1965, Charles Dolan, who had already done pioneering work in the commercial use of cables and had developed Teleguide, a closed-circuit tourist information television system distributed to hotels in the New York metropolitan area—won a franchise to build a cable television system in the Lower Manhattan section of New York City. The new system, which Dolan named “Sterling Information Services” (later to be known as Sterling Manhattan Cable, and eventually becoming the then Time Warner Cable which merged into Charter Communications in 2016), became the first urban underground cable television system in the United States.

Two Davids Walk Into A Bar: History of Cable “Pay-As-You-Look”

Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent systems, light pulses through fiber-optic cables. This contrasts with broadcast television (also known as terrestrial television), in which the television signal is transmitted over the air by radio waves and received by a television antenna attached to the television; or satellite television, in which the television signal is transmitted by a communications satellite orbiting the Earth and received by a satellite dish on the roof.

Cable television began in the United States as a commercial business in 1950, although there were small-scale systems by hobbyists in the 1940s.

The early systems simply received weak (broadcast) channels, amplified them, and sent them over unshielded wires to the subscribers, limited to a community or to adjacent communities. The receiving antenna would be higher than any individual subscriber could afford, thus bringing in stronger signals; in hilly or mountainous terrain it would be placed at a high elevation.

At the outset, cable systems only served smaller communities without television stations of their own, and which could not easily receive signals from stations in cities because of distance or hilly terrain. In Canada, however, communities with their own signals were fertile cable markets, as viewers wanted to receive American signals. Rarely, as in the college town of Alfred, New York, U.S. cable systems retransmitted Canadian channels.

NEW EPISODE! “Corporate Whores … and Press-titutes”


Recorded March 12, 19, April 17-28, 2016.

With David Lawler, Andrew La Ganke, Eve Kerrigan, Denny Spangler, Bronwyn Knox.

“My Computer” (Prince) by Prince (from the 1996 album, “Emancipation”), “Yo Bill” (David Lawler) by David Lawler with vocals by Alex Saltz, The Dylan Ratigan Show (an American television program on MSNBC hosted by Dylan Ratigan), “Hail To The Chief” (James Sanderson), Fatman On Batman” (a web series hosted by Kevin Smith), “Pope” (Prince) by Prince (from the 1993 album, “The Hits/The B-Sides”), “Purple Rain” (Prince) by Prince and The Revolution, “The Beautiful Ones (Prince) by Prince and The Revolution, “Diamonds and Pearls” (Prince) by Prince and The New Power Generation.

The Vampire Economy

Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.

Vintage Cable Box: “The Survivors, 1983”

New VCB Logo

“There’ll be peace without end, every neighbor a friend, and every man a king!”


The Survivors, 1983 (Robin Williams), Columbia Pictures

There’s a hint of desperation in Donald Quinelle (Robin Williams) as he attempts to reach out for the American Dream, or as much of that dream that his middle-class existence will allow. He loses his job and begins to lose his mind. Walter Matthau’s Sonny is a gas station owner who loses his livelihood when Williams inadvertently blows it up. He can’t get unemployment benefits because as the owner of the gas station, he wasn’t an employee, or something along those lines. The two men meet in a diner before a thief named Jack (Jerry Reed) holds up the joint. In the ensuing revolt, Donald is shot.

In the hospital, he becomes demoralized when his heroic actions are decried on the news as being juvenile and mindlessly retaliatory. After Donald appears on the news to rebut the commentary and reveals Sonny’s name on live television, Jack breaks into Sonny’s house to kill him before he can identify his likeness to the cops. Reed claims to have assisted in Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. Donald arrives in the nick of time and rescues Sonny and his teenaged daughter. Reed is arrested and booked.

Donald develops an interest in guns, knives, and survivalism. He invests his savings in a survivalist retreat up north, headed by con-man Wes Huntley (James Wainwright), who is exploiting people’s fears about the rotting big city cess-pool and the failing economy of a once grand nation. Jack tracks Donald to the retreat and Sonny follows in an effort to save Donald from himself and from Jack. While initially adept at weaponry, Donald proves incapable of protecting himself.

The Survivors is a wonderful satire, and perhaps my favorite of Robin Williams’ performances, because while the broad comedy palette is more than sufficient for Williams and his antics, the undercurrent of drama and social commentary create an ultimately tragic figure in Donald Quinelle. While Matthau’s Sonny is a pragmatist who tries to keep Donald grounded and safe, he realizes he must surrender to the absurdity of his predicament. The film embraces the fears we all share, and indicts the parasites who seek to take advantage of those fears.

“Hi, Jack. Want some pancakes?”

Director Michael Ritchie had an unusual up-and-down career, making brilliant comedies like The Bad News Bears and Fletch, and horrible flops like The Island and Student Bodies as well as marginally successful movies like The Survivors and Semi Tough. He died in 2001. Walter Matthau appeared, most famously as Oscar Madison in the film version of The Odd Couple, as well as the Grumpy Old Men movies with Jack Lemmon. Matthau died in 2000. I remember Jerry Reed first for his music. One of my favorite songs ever was a ditty he wrote and recorded titled “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”. He is most famous for his appearances in the Smokey and the Bandit series, as well as another favorite movie of mine, Hot Stuff, directed by Dom DeLuise in 1979. Reed died in 2008.

At the end of the movie, as Donald realizes he has been duped and living a lie in the snow-covered woods, he gets out of the car on the ride home. Sonny follows him and tries to get him back into the car. Donald disrobes and starts shivering in the cold. Sonny gives him his coat. Donald tells him he’ll freeze. Sonny says, “that’s okay, we’ll freeze together”. I was deeply devastated by Williams’ death in August of 2014, and I screened three of his movies that are among my favorites. The Survivors was one of them.

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

Douglas MacArthur

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.