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.


In 1945, Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler created a garage-based manufacturing business. They named it by combining their first names, Mattel. First, they manufactured picture frames. Using the leftover pieces of wood, Elliot built dollhouses that sold well. Soon, Matson dropped out of the business leaving it solely owned by Handler and his wife, Ruth.

Ruth and Matt created a toy ukulele that sold well, the company’s first major success. In 1955, they licensed the rights for popular “Mickey Mouse Club Products.” Licensing pop-culture characters for toys was an emerging and popular business model. In 1955, they patented the toy cap gun. The business wasn’t spectacular but the Handler’s were doing well.

Dolls during this era were babies or children. However, Ruth noticed her own daughter, Barbara, playing with dolls and assigning them adult roles. In 1956, the family took a trip in Europe and purchased a German toy doll called Bild Lilli that looked like a small woman rather than a child. Originally marketed to adults, Lilli was more popular with children.

Back in the US, Ruth decided to make her own grown-up doll. The doll should look fun, she reasoned, rather than realistic. It had an unusually large bust, a slim waist, and full-size hips. Ruth named it Barbie, after her daughter Barbara.

On March 9, 1959, Barbie was introduced to the world at the American International Toy Fair in New York. She wore a black-and-white one piece and came in blonde or brunette. The “Teen-age Fashion Model” was wildly successful, selling about 350,000 during her first year. Ruth died in 2002 and Eliott in 2011 but, in 2019 at 60 years-old, Barbie is still very much alive.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing identifies genetic patterns, including irregularities. In 2019, genetic testing is typically used to search for abnormalities and susceptibilities. However, new treatments under development target the specific traits of patients or disease. These treatments attack and cure at the genetic level. In addition, genetic testing is entertaining. People find unknown relatives or trace family origin.


In April 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick worked with Rosalind Franklin to discover that DNA is a double-helix. They explained how DNA self-replicates and encodes hereditary information. Eventually, Watson & Crick won the Nobel Prize for their work (Franklin died, rendering her ineligible). However, while they accurately described the form of DNA they did not explain the chromosomes that render our biological blueprint.

In 1956, Joe Him Tjio and Albert Levan released the first substantive work on chromosomes, the core of genetic testing. Particularly, they found human DNA contained 46, not 48 as previously believed. Almost more importantly, they identified how to read information from chromosomes.

Not long after, the earliest genetic testing began. Eventually, reports emerged concurrently identifying the genetic abnormality responsible for Down syndrome. Next came reports tying Turner and Klinefelter syndromes to genetic anomalies.

Markedly, progress identifying genetic differences proceeded slowly until the 1980s. Eventually, new technologies lowered the cost and increased the value of the information. By the 1990s, these techniques increased in speed and decreased in cost.

Human Genome Mapping

In 1990, scientists started a project to map the entire human genome, the Human Genome Project. It finished in April 2003, and cost about $2.7 billion USD. By late 2018, one company ran a sale to sequence an entire human genome for $200. The full price was $999 though the company, Veritas, predicts the retail price for a full DNA sequence will be $99 by 2024 at the latest.

Countless DNA sequencing companies exist that read and report partial DNA results. For example, 23 and Me offers a “Health + Ancestry Service.” For $199, customers receive over 125 gene-related health reports plus a fun family history report. The family history report, “Get a breakdown of your global ancestry by percentages, connect with DNA relatives and more,” costs $99 alone.

Rock & Roll

“If you’re not doing something different, you’re not doing anything.”

Sam Phillips


Billboard magazine started charting songs in 1940. Eventually, they divided songs into three categories, pop, country-and-western, and “race music.” Around 1949, race music was renamed rhythm and blues (R&B).

Music sales were proprietary and closely guarded so Billboard based their charts off of popularity estimates from Jukebox and radio play. Before the 1940s three national broadcast networks dominated. The Federal Communications Commission mandated more local radio licenses. From the beginning to the end of the 1940s the number of local radio stations increased from about 800 to over 2,000.

Billboard categorized a song as pop or R&B depending upon whether the audience was African American or white. The songs on radio stations targeted to African Americans or Jukeboxes in African American clubs were R&B. Those targeted to white people were pop.

Rock & Roll

Rock & Roll came from a convergence of two events in Memphis, Tennessee. The first is a recording studio owned by Sam Phillips. “We Record Anything – Anywhere – Anytime” was their slogan. Any aspiring musician could visit and audition. If Phillips liked what he heard, he’d record them. Musicians could cut their own records for a fee.

One of the local African-American radio stations in Memphis was WDIA. In 1949, they began broadcasting and hired a disk jockey and on-air performer named B.B. King. Radio waves did not respect the racial segregation lives in Memphis. One WDIA listener, a B.B. King fan, was a young white man named Elvis Presley.

Young Elvis wasn’t alone. By one estimate, about 40% of the people buying R&B music, at African-American record stores, were young white people.

Just about this time the major labels exited the R&B market, segregating their music tastes to white people. In response, countless minor labels sprung up. Phillips decided to create one of his own, considering his stream of fresh talent, calling it Sun Records.

About this same time, television began widespread penetration. One of the featured events of live television were musical performances. Phillips had great musicians and a great sound but knew television, in those days, would refuse to broadcast African-American performers. “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars,” Phillips said. In 1956, the Nat King Cole television show was canceled after only a year due to a dearth of sponsors. “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark,” he noted.


Elvis showed up at Phillips studio in the summer of 1953, at age 18, to record two songs. They paid him four dollars, noted “Good ballad singer. Hold.” and ignore him. Phillips invited him back a year later to try some ballads. Nothing clicked but Phillips added some musicians, an electric guitarist and standup bass player. After a few songs, Elvis suggested trying R&B music, singing “That’s All Right.”

Phillips asked a friend with an R&B show on a white radio station (yes, Memphis was that segregated) to roll the record. Dewey Phillips played it and, due to repeated requested, kept playing it. Soon enough, he was singing to 40 million people on television.

During those years, Phillips recorded Elvis, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. And in a small studio in Memphis Rock and Roll was born.

Electric Instruments

Early History

Claims about electric instruments date back to 1730 when texts describe a Czech musician who “generated sound by electromagnetic excitation of piano strings.” These claims are either false or the entire history of electricity of incorrect. Until Volta’s Voltaic Pile battery, in 1800, there was no method to produce an ongoing current. Electrical experimentation before that time was little more than playing with static shocks of electricity. Furthermore, the relationship between electricity and magnetism was not yet understood.

Other electrical instruments claim to exist but running an instrument off a battery would be expensive and impractical. Telegraphs generated funds to pay the significant cost of their batteries. Musical instruments are unlikely to have generated enough money to justify the expense over traditional instruments. Furthermore, until the availability of the Audion tube amplifier, most people would not be able to hear the instruments until they were extremely close.

First Genuine Electric Instruments

Given this, our guess is the first real electrical instrument is the “Teleharmonium” of Thaddeus Cahill in 1897. By then, an early power grid existed. Furthermore, Cahill patented his instrument, demonstrated it publicly, and took photos of it. His electric piano is before the Audion tube so it would have been quiet but, still, it sounds like a legitimate invention.

In 1899, British physicist William Duddell experimented with lowering the noise electric arc lamps create. During his work, he realized he could modulate the noise and created a pre-Audion tunable instrument with reasonable volume. As a quirky bonus, electric-arc lamps on the same circuit as Duddell’s piano also played the same sounds.

In 1905, German Hermann von Helmholtz created an extremely on-key sound synthesizer used to tune other instruments. By 1909, serial inventor Melvin Severy built an improved Teleharmonium they called the “Choralcelo” and marketed to rich families.

Modern Electric Instruments

Finally, in 1915, serial inventor Lee de Forest modified his Audion tubes to create the first amplified electric instrument. de Forest’s Audion Piano is arguably the first real electric instrument. Listeners said de Forest’s synthesizer mimicked many different sounds. Cahill collaborated with de Forest to broadcast a Teleharmonium concert amplified by telephone, which relied on de Forest amplification. Realizing that lack of need for the telephone in the middle, the Teleharmoium eventually disappeared, replaced by vacuum-tube powered equipment.

Soon enough there were countless electric instruments. One of the more popular is the Soviet Union’s “Theremin” that changes tones without touching the instrument.

Fender & Moog

By the late 1930s, Leo Fender opened a radio repair shop in Fullerton, California. He quickly developed a reputation for building effective amplification systems. Musicians from the Los Angeles area rented his amplifiers. Soon, they started asking him to amplify their acoustic guitars and lap steel guitars. Eventually, Fender teamed up with others to add specialized amplification to different types of guitars. After WWII, “Big Band” music became less popular and bands realized they could produce a similar effect of a horn section with one electric guitar. Fender’s guitars surged in popularity. Musicians tired of lugging around giant bass violins so Fender created a bass guitar that was smaller, less expensive, and far easier to travel with.

In 1953, electrical engineer Roberg Moog started designing and selling Theremins. Eventually, one of his customers modified a Moog Theremin for keyboard control, calling it a Clavivox. In 1947, Bell Labs created the semiconductor which enabled the miniaturization of devices made from vacuum tubes. Around 1964, Moog started building a semiconductor-based synthesizer. Rather than the enormous electric pianos or barely controllable Theremins, the Moog synthesizer was relatively small, easy to control, and produced lots of interesting sounds. In 1968, Wendy Carlos the wildly popular Switched-On Bach, a classical music LP created on a Moog synthesizer. Music has never been quite the same.

Theramin Demonstration

For a great look at the evolution of electric instruments over time, see the fantastic website 120 Years.

Long Playing (LP) Records & Talking Movies

Long-playing records play for a long time, enabling records with more than one song.


As Edison’s phonograph evolved, the recordings eventually migrated to small disks played at 78 rotations per minute (rpm). Each disk held about three minutes of music per side.

Filmmakers wanted to add sound to their movies. Before then, movies ran and typically a musician played a piano or organ. Lee de Forest’s Audion amplifying tube made movie sound possible, but the three-minute recordings were too short.

In the early 1920s, de Forest tried to create his own extended-play sound system, but it never worked well. In response, Bell Labs created a longer playing disk. Significantly larger disks spun slower, at 33 1/3 rpm allowing it to play about 23 minutes. They branded it the “Vitaphone” sound system for movies.

The Vitaphone system functioned from 1926 to 1931. Eventually, optically encoding a soundtrack replaced the LP movie soundtrack. Optical encoding made it easier to synchronize sound to movies and played for an indefinite length.

LP’s, from B2B to B2C

However, the long-playing records caught on a consumer product. It was impossible to record entire classical pieces on the 78rpm records. Additionally, pop soundtracks contained one song per side. Finally, the maximum song length was about three minutes. To sell multiple songs, the small records would be bound together into a book, called an album, a term still in use.

Over the years, various recording technologies attempted to challenge the dominance of the LP record except none succeeded besides cassette tapes, which could play in cars. In 1982, the introduction of the digital Compact Disk (CD) eventually sent the LP into obsolescence.

Interestingly, vinyl LP records are becoming popular again. Starting in 2014, vinyl record sales climbed steadily higher due to a perception of better-quality sound. By 2018, vinyl accounted for 9.7 million album sales, up 12% from 8.6 million in 2017. In contrast, CD sales are falling by 41% per year. In 2018, CD sales are 70% and vinyl sales account for 30% of the physical music media. However, by 2018 overall sales of physical music – as opposed to digital soundtracks or streaming – makeup only 10% of the industrial total.


The Jukebox is an automated coin-operated music player which plays individual songs. The differentiating factor of the Jukebox from a simple coin-operated record player is the ability of an automated machine to replace live music in a restaurant or bar.


Louis Glass and William Arnold modified Edison’s record players to operate by coins. These contained multiple listening stations before the introduction of the loudspeaker. Eventually, these record players evolved but, until the 1930s, they were not for widespread use. You couldn’t dance to the early Edison phonographs.

Literature often confused and co-mingles the Jukeboxe and the Nickelodeon. However, they’re entirely separate.

However, player pianos existed since the late 1880s, including coin-operated models. By 1896, the Wurlitzer company was selling coin-operated player pianos. In 1924, de Forest’s electric tube amplifier enabled amplified music and the Jukeboxes that followed.

Golden Years of Jukeboxes

In the early 1930s, Americans lacked both money and fun. The Great Depression and prohibition of alcohol put a damper on the fun. Phonographs were not expensive but were not free, and neither were the recordings.

In response, various inventors created the modern Jukebox. It is a machine that plays 45rpm single-song recordings over a loudspeaker, one after another, for an affordable price.

Two groups found the jukebox controversial. First were Americans who believed that jukeboxes encouraged immorality and crime. Organized crime did control jukeboxes in New York City, reinforcing this negative impression.


However, organized crime also controlled the low-cost speakeasy’s the jukeboxes originally played in until the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Realistically, these people didn’t like the influence of the music, especially on young people. Jukeboxes often played jazz and, later, rhythm and blues and later rock and roll. This music was tied to African Americans and the “concerns” certain people are little more than thinly-veiled racism.

Another group with a more substantive concern were musicians. Before jukeboxes, musicians routinely played in bars and pubs throughout the US and Europe. Live music was the norm, not the exception. However, whereas a bar owner paid musicians the jukeboxes produced revenue. Even if mobsters ran the jukeboxes, they still cost the bar owner nothing, unlike live musicians.

Jukeboxes created a cultural convention that people could have the music they wanted when they wanted it for a reasonable price. While the machines eventually faded away, the demand for individualized music did not.

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.

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.