Paid Cable Television Channels


Charles Dolan was a cable TV pioneer who received a license to build a cable television system in lower Manhattan. Due to New York City restrictions, cables needed to run underground, vastly increasing the cost of the infrastructure. New Yorkers lacked enthusiasm. By 1971, Dolan only had 400 subscribers.

To increase sales, Dolan eventually decided to create a paid channel available only to cable subscribers. Working with Time-Life, they developed the concept under the codename Home Box Office. Straightaway, focus groups and customer surveys overwhelmingly rejected the idea but Dolan moved forward anyway.


Dolan’s HBO launched Nov. 8, 1972, and carried hockey game unavailable over broadcast TV. It was channel 21 on the tiny Teleservice cable system in Pennsylvania. Subsequently, the film Sometimes a Great Notion was broadcast after the game.

HBO is now known as the home of The Sopranos, Sex in the City, and Game of Thrones but it took a while to find its legs. Earlier, in Feb. 1973, the next HBO special broadcast, a three-hour event called the Pennsylvania Polka Festival.

Dolan’s cable system continued bleeding money. In 1973, seeing a long-term opportunity to own a cable-TV system in Manhattan, Time-Life purchased 20% of Dolan’s struggling company. However, not long after, they fired him. Soon after that, they acquired HBO.

In Sept. 1973, HBO struggled with 8,000 subscribers across 14 cable systems, all in Pennsylvania. By April 1975, there were 100,000 subscribers in Pennsylvania and New York State. The young channel turned profitable.

In Sept. 1975, HBO became the first television network to broadcast to cable providers via satellite. The strategy is common now but, at the time, was an enormous risk. They expanded their footprint and, by 1980, operating in all 50 states.

Custom Content

By the 1990s, there were countless television stations. To differentiate, HBO began to create their own programming rather than relying solely on content available to others. The Larry Sanders Show was popular. In 1998, HBO launched the $68 million From Earth to the Moon miniseries and the comedy Sex in the City. The Sopranos, launched in 1999, cemented the channel’s reputation for movie-quality entertainment delivered on television.

It’s difficult to describe how terrible television was before the influence of HBO. Slate’s Peter Aspden described a season of the broadcast mid-1980’s TV show Dallas as “Borgesian surrealism (that) gave every impression of having been scribed on the back of a spent cocaine packet in a Los Angeles traffic jam.”

Indeed, countless social commentators note we’re in a rebirth of television, with a plethora of high-quality content. As of 2019, Hollywood is fighting against admitting Made-For-TV movies to be eligible for Academy Awards. It’s only a matter of time until old-guard Hollywood will loses that fight. Dolan’s HBO is largely to thank.

Consumer Shared Computer Network (CompuServe)

CompuServe is the first computer network targeted towards ordinary people though it did not start out that way.


Jeff Wilkins sold burglar alarms. His father-in-law ran a small insurance company and needed to buy a computer. However, the DEC model he wanted had far more computing power than his father required.

Wilkins realized he could use the computer modem to sell extra capacity to other businesses that did not want to purchase or maintain an entire computer. Companies had been sharing mainframe computers for some time. However, Wilkins is the first to miniaturize the idea, to sell time on a relatively low-power computer.

In 1969, he launched the business and it quickly became popular. Wilkins quit his job selling alarms and set out full-time selling computing power.

He expanded the idea in 1978 with the introduction of personal computers, though early-on there wasn’t much reason to purchase time from him.

CompuServe Grows

In July 1980, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper became the first paper to publish electronically, on Wilkins’ CompuServe. Thanks to relatively low-cost personal computers the service began to rapidly grow. In Q3 1980, CompuServe had 3,600 subscribers. By the end of Q1, 1981, they’d grown to over 10,000 customers.

Interestingly, the most popular CompuServe app was text chatting. About 20 percent of total usage consisted of people chatting to one another. Reading the newspaper accounted for just 5 percent of total usage.

By 1984, CompuServe charged $5/hr. after 6 PM but the service was mind-numbingly slow at 300bps.

Despite the slow speed, the service continued to grow. By 1984, CompuServe had 60,000 subscribers. In 1986, tax preparation company H&R Block purchased the company, paying $68 million. By 1993, CompuServe had over 1.5 million subscribers throughout the world.


Eventually, CompuServe was overtaken by upstart competitor America Online (AOL) which offered lower rates and more content. However, AOL was soon enough shuttered by cable companies and internet service providers. These market incumbents often provided faster speeds at lower prices often bundled with television and phone service. Additionally, they enjoyed US government monopolies on the cable lines used to transmit high-speed data.


Videoconferencing is well over 50 years old. Today, it is fast and virtually free over the Internet. However, aside from extremely formal or informal events, videoconferencing has largely failed to catch on.


AT&T introduced videoconference at the 1964 World’s Fair. People in New York waited in line to walk into a booth and spend a few minutes talking to a stranger, with voice and video, in Disneyland, in California.

Simultaneously, they tried to commercialize the service by adding devices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The device was called AT&T Picturephone Mod I. However, the most common pricing plan cost $80 for 15 minutes of voice/video chat (about $660 adjusted to 2019). Three minutes of videoconferencing cost $16 ($130 adjusted to 2019). In the first six months of service, 71 customers paid for calls and volumes declined from there.

Additionally, besides the high prices, the video was tiny. Black-and-white screens measured 13 cm x 12 cm (about 5×5 inches) and connections oftentimes dropped.

Eventually, AT&T released a picturephone with the same internal parts but a more attractive plastic box. However, potential buyers still passed; the value video provided did not correlate to the additional cost either in terms of money or convenience.

AT&T Keeps Trying

Between 1966 and 1973, AT&T invested more than half a billion dollars developing and marketing the videophone. They renamed it the Picturephone Mod II, targeted to the corporate market. Nobody was interested.

By 1982, they created a Picturephone Service Meeting. The equipment and call costs were exorbitant, and nobody was interested.

Finally, in January 1992, AT&T released the VideoPhone 2500, a phone with a small color video screen. At the initial price of $1.5 million, the phone attracted literally no sales. They reduced the price to $1,000 and allowed people to rent the phone for $30 per day. Buyers refused even at these lower prices.

By the late 1990s, free videoconferencing appeared on the web but, even as it evolved, the product still remains largely a niche market. Even with a price of zero, many customers will prefer texting or speaking rather than videoconferencing. One exception is in certain office situations, where high-end videoconferencing systems can reduce the price of in-person travel.

35-millimeter Photography

35mm film remained the standard for photography for decades until digital photography. The film is important because it enabled the miniaturization of cameras.


The Houston brothers invented roll film and sold the rights to George Eastman. Eventually, Thomas Edison purchased 70mm roll film from Eastman to make movies. Subsequently, Edison employee William Dickson sliced it in half, creating 35mm roll film.

Cameras at the time typically used 70mm or larger film. Consequently, they were large, lumbering things, not easy to carry around.

In 1913, the “American Tourist Multiple” became the first 35mm still camera available for purchase. However, it cost $175, just under an average year’s wages. Needless to say, it never caught on.

In 1913, Oskar Barnack, a Leica employee, began to develop a mass-produced 35mm camera. WWI interfered with the development and commercialization effort. However, Leica introduced the wildly popular company Leica I in 1925. Markedly, The small size was a dramatic departure from prior cameras.

35mm Cassette Fim

In 1934, Kodak released preloaded 35mm cassettes that dropped into a camera. Prior to that innovation, photographers had to load film into their cameras in darkrooms.

In 1936, the inexpensive Argus A 35mm camera was introduced. Combined with Kodak’s easy loading film, 35mm photography exploded in popularity. Subsequently, that same year, the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera was introduced, allowing photographers to see the exact image the film would record.

By the 1960s, SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses dominated the market. In the 1980s, Kodak release single-use cameras pre-loaded with film. Users took pictures and brought the entire camera, not just the film for developing. Kodak had invented and patented the digital camera a half-decade before, in 1975, but ignored the invention.

Digital Dominates

In 1997, Kodak sold over a billion rolls of film. Twelve years later, on June 22, 2009, announced the cessation of Kodachrome film after 74 years of production. The company declared bankruptcy in January 2012. Digital photography now dominates imaging. However, in 2019, the company still produces a limited line of traditional films for professional photographers.

Broadcast News

The Scripps newspaper family-owned, among other newspapers, The Detroit News. They noticed when the Titanic sunk, in 1912, that radio sent the news far faster than telegraphs or telephones.

An Experiment

In 1920 radio was for what today we’d call early adopters. There were few broadcasts and most of those were sporadic broadcasting of recorded music. Most people from this era believed the value of radio was a long-distance one-to-one communication device.

However, a small number of forward thinkers realized that radio might become a mass media. Individual stations could broadcast to an enormous number of people.

The Scripps decided to take a risk and hired a small crew, an unnamed teenager and “radio pioneer” Michael Lyons to create a radio station. At that time, there were few regulations about broadcast spectrum. Lyons applied for a radio license in his own name rather than the companies. This is something we’d see 75 years later with the early World-wide-web.

For their first week the new radio station, WWJ, broadcast music like other radio stations.

WWJ Goes Live

However, on August 30, 1920, WWJ made the first news broadcast, reading articles from The Detroit News.

The newspaper hailed the broadcast in what Wired Magazine, in 2010, referred to as “an amusingly self-congratulatory and hyperbolic story about itself.”

“The sending of the election returns by The Detroit News’ radiophone Tuesday night was fraught with romance and must go down in the history of man’s conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his progress. In the four hours that the apparatus, set up in an out-of-the-way corner of The News Building, was hissing and whirring its message into space, few realized that a dream and a prediction had come true. The news of the world was being given forth through this invisible trumpet to the waiting crowds in the unseen market place.”

Wired was wrong describing in their description. The invention of broadcast news was momentous. It since has started and stopped wars. Presidents and Prime Ministers were elected or thrown from office. For better or worse, radio then television news went on to dominate print news.

Modern Art


Towards the late 1800s, two new technologies radically changed the world of painting.

The first photography. Images were primitive, expensive, and slow at first. However, by the late 1800s photography would eventually produce entirely realistic images in less time and at less cost than any painter could. Painting as a functional exercise, to preserve an image, had a limited lifespan.

The second advance is paint technology allowing artists to paint outdoors. Before then, sunlight would quickly dry paint and spoil the pigment. Outdoor scenes before this time were drawn from memory or made up.

However, these new paints were not perfect. They dried quickly. Therefore, artists at the time had to paint quickly. They brought their easels and paints to fields and buildings and quickly painted their impression, which looked similar to what the saw but not the photo-realistic imagery of traditional indoor painting.

Art Evolves

Eventually, these fast paintings evolved into a style of their own, impressionism. Like the Polaroid people who came later, the impressionists were using new imaging technology to create a new art form.

The French village Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh spent a large part of his life, has pictures of his paintings next to the buildings and fields that inspired them. You can all but feel the artist walking around, morphing the buildings and fields to this new style.

Over time, painting continued to change and a new generation of artists evolved the style. Picasso, Chagall, and Kandinsky purposefully distorted imagery, even when painting inside and there was no need to. They dreamed up new ways to imagine the world around them, literally morphing the visuals. We can still see people and animals, but their forms are interwoven into some kind of other.

After WWII, the forms continued to evolve. Realism sometimes returned albeit in a way that made the readers think. Warhol’s pop art is a good example. Many might see a simple can of soup whereas others question what message the artist is relaying about the modern world, where soup comes in a can and every can tastes identical.

Modern art still exists but continues to morph and change. Another technological change, the rise of inexpensive digital equipment for still and videos, enables artists ever more creative ways to express their work.

Modern Advertising

Before Albert Lasker advertisements tended to be crude, raising awareness or reinforcing a brand name. Many ads were not much more than offers to purchase something, with no overarching idea. Lasker used the emerging science of psychology and budding technology of radio to radically change advertising.


Born in Germany, Lasker moved to the US as a baby. He was raised in Texas and, as a teenager worked on the Congressional campaign for Republican Robert Hawley. In the late 1800s, Texans still remembered the Civil War and Republicans stood little chance of election. However, thanks to some clever politicking and a little luck Hawley won.

Lasker then moved to Chicago joining the prestigious advertising firm Lord & Thomas. He became a partner at the age of 23 and outright purchased the firm at the age of 32.

The success of his ad campaigns is legendary. Many Lasker ads focused on women, on the assumption they controlled purse strings. Traditional ad campaigns usually focused on men, on the incorrect assumption that as primary breadwinners (at that time) they must also be the decisionmakers related to spending.


Few women smoked and he devised a campaign that Lucky Strike cigarettes helped keep them slender.

Lasker realized nobody likes to do dishes and created a campaign that Palmolive soap is good for the hands, focusing on the positive.

A spinoff from paper giant Kimberly-Clark created a new type of absorbent material. They sold it to the army for use in WWI. French nurses found it worked great as a menstrual pad. Kimberly Clark saw the market opportunity but found the concept embarrassing. Lasker branded the waste-paper product “cellucotton,” so it sounded natural, and created a wholly-owned subsidiary, the International Cellucotton Products Paper Company with one brand, Kotex. He branded the menstrual pads “sanitary napkins” and marketed a box where women could put in a coupon and receive a pack without talking to men. He also created a curriculum for teachers to explain to girls how to use pads. The modern menstrual hygiene market was created.

He branded the first sports stadium, Wrigley Field.

After a betting scandal, he invented a “baseball commissioner” to restore confidence in the integrity of professional baseball.

Food & Politics

Californians were cutting down orange trees for lack of interest. He invented the idea that oranges should be juiced and that orange juice is a vital part of breakfast. Then he created the Sunkist brand. Demand for orange juice boomed.

Raisins were never especially popular until the California Associated Raisin Company (CARC) approached Lasker. He rebranded the company Sun-Maid and sold the raisins in small boxes sent to lunch with students. Sales boomed. How could a company sell a new recipe they had for wheat and rice? Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice became breakfast cereals.

He worked for Republican Warren Harding and focused on the 22 million women who just won the right to vote. Harding won by a landslide.

Kimberly-Clark asked if he could find a use for the thin paper used in WWI gas masks; Kleenex was born.

Radio Ads

Lasker decided to become the sole sponsor and promote a radio show, Amos & Andy. His client, Pepsodent, paid him in stock. Sales doubled and became the second-largest shareholder in the company.

His third wife was heavily involved in the Birth Control Federation, a group founded by Margaret Sanger. The public did not like the name. In response, Lasker rebranded the group Planned Parenthood.

After retiring with a then staggering sum of $45 million he became a philanthropist, donating heavily to the American Society for the Control of Cancer. They struggled for donations until Lasker suggested a name change, The American Cancer Society. After convincing a popular radio show to do a segment on cancer, a dreaded concept, donations “flooded in.”

Stepping Switch

Stepping switches change the direction of a magnetic flow to one of multiple channels, stepping through them incrementally. Which sounds incredibly boring until we realize they enabled the modern phone system and powered the decryption machines which morphed into the modern computer. Stepping switches were literally a step from the industrial revolution to the modern world.


Let’s step back. When you dial a phone number each digit zero’s in on the intended recipient. Take the theoretical number +1 212 345-6789. +1 indicated the US. The next set of numbers, 212, routes to the Washington, DC area. The next three numbers, 345, route your call to an exchange somewhere that used to be nearby your house. Finally, the last four digits find you.

Before stepping switches humans had to do manually. The +1 was implied (unless it wasn’t, in which case an overseas operator would reach the US). Dialing 212 is optional but, before stepping switches, if you wanted to dial long-distance an operator would have to plug your call into a long-distance line.

Finally, for the last part, an operator would always have to find you and plug the call in.

In case you’re wondering how this worked you would pick up the phone and tell the operator the number you wished to call. She (it was always a she) would then work with operators to get to the telephone you wished to reach.

If this sounds slow, clunky, annoying and expensive you’re right, it was. Therefore, Almon Stowger invented a device to do the work automatically. Rather than an operator routing the line, a series of stepping switches does the same work faster, cheaper, and more accurately.

Stepping switches were integral to the war effort. In Bletchley Park, the English code-breaking facility, they allowed the Allies to break Nazi encryption. Alan Turing, inventor of the modern computer, worked as a lead scientist.



Samuel Morse invented the telegraph. He learned that his wife was sick while working in a different city. By the time he arrived home, she had died. Morse determined to invent a faster message delivery system.

Like Fulton, Morse was an artist before going into business. He had no background in science or engineering. Similarly, Colt was a showman, not an engineer.

There were several impractical precursors to Morse’s telegraph including one that dated to 1816 which used static electricity. Cooke & Wheatstone simultaneously invented a system in the UK. However, it was never popular outside the UK.

Samuel Morse’ Telegraph

Morse invented the first practical, stable, usable telegraph in 1837. However, the system could only handle electrical impulses, on and off. When the operator on onside pressed a lever down the lever on the other side also depressed, due to magnetism. This made a series of clicks.

Morse realized these clicks could be turned into an alphabet of dots and dashes, with each letter representing a dot and dash. The system became Morse Code and still exists 180 years later.

Until the development of an electrical grid, fifty years later, telegraphs ran from large Voltaic Pile batteries.

Both Morse’s and the Cooke & Wheatstone telegraphs were based on the electromagnetic work of Joseph Henry, a professor focused on electromagnets. Henry mentored Morse but had no interest commercializing his work.

Henry testified at a patent infringement trial that Morse eventually won. He summed up what today we call the difference between invention and innovation:

“Morse did not make a single original discovery in electricity, magnetism or electromagnetism, applicable to the innovation of the telegraph. I have always considered his merit to consist in combining and applying the discoveries of others in the innovation of a particular instrument and process for telegraphic purposes.”

Joseph Henry

Morse’ telegraph went on to revolutionize the United States and the world, pulling distant geographies ever closer.


Newspapers especially embraced the new instant communication technology. Thanks to lower-cost paper and steam presses, newspapers churned out multiple editions all day, updating the news as new information came through the telegraph. In 1846, five New York newspapers, led by the New York Times, founded the Associated Press. Its purpose was to source and write articles, transmitted over the telegraph, that any member newspaper could print.

US Civil War

During the Civil War, the telegraph proved vital. Buggies carrying large voltaic piles relayed reports back to the White House via a new division of the army, the Telegraph Corps (later renamed the Signal Corps). Lincoln anxiously awaited reports and, at one point during the war, spent hours in the telegraph room. Additionally, spies from both the North and South intercepted communications necessitating the need for significantly more sophisticated ciphers.

Image result for civil war telegraph

Western Union

There were many telegraph companies but, eventually, Western Union came to dominate the business. They realized that telegraph wires could easily be strung long-distances next to train tracks since the tracks always rested on relatively flat ground. Western Union purposefully skipped entering the telephone business but remarkably managed to keep the telegraph business alive until 2006. Today, the company still exists primarily for transferring funds.

Metric System

The metric system standardized weights and measures enabling trade and improving communication. Before the metric system, every country and also countless regions, used different forms of measurement. This vastly complicated international trade.


The metric system derives from the natural world and uses a decimal counting system for simplicity.

Length derives from the meter, a measure of one ten-millionth the distance from the North Pole to the equator. One thousand meters is a kilometer, kilo being Greek for thousand. A centimeter is 1/100th of a meter. A landmass 100 meters squared is a hectare.

Volume derives from length: a liter is the volume of water that fills a container 10 centimeters cubed.

Weight derives from volume. A kilogram is the weight of one liter and a gram is 1/100 a kilogram.


Like countless countries that came later, the French initially resisted the metric system. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the metric system became widely used in France. The system spread to other countries based on its simplicity and objectivity. For example, there was no need to adopt the length of a foreign king’s foot as a unit of measure.

Only three countries in the world have failed to adopt the metric system, Burma, Liberia, and the United States. Metric is the official system in the UK but, thanks largely to the US refusal to switch, many British change between metric and imperial measurements.

Metric in the US

The United States officially adopted the metric system in 1866 but, except for the limited use of liters, Americans largely refuse to use metric. Even liters are still confined largely to soft drinks but larger measurements of fluid are referred to in gallons.

If Americans realized how much simpler metric is they’d surely switch. Since most liquids weigh about the same as water it is easy to measure liquid, say for recipes, by weight. Kilometers are shorter than miles but, as anybody who has driven in Europe knows, they are easy to estimate. American runners routinely run “5K” (five kilometers) and don’t complain about using the metric system. There is no need to remember arbitrary measurements; the number of quarts in a gallon or cups in a quart.

The US last attempted to change to metric in 1975. However, the move failed. Many argue the change was too fast. All signage, weights, and measures changed seemingly overnight to an unfamiliar system.

One notable failure based on a refusal to convert is the crash of the Mars Climate Orbiter, a 1998 spaceship. One group worked in metric and another using the imperial system. Due to a mismatch between metric and imperial, the ship flew too close to the planet and crashed.