Interview Date: Friday April 19, 2002
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection
KELLER: This is the oral history of Jake H. Landrum. A fixture in the cable television industry in the state of Texas. Jake has virtually done everything from climbing poles to managing cable systems to construction work throughout his 48 years, 43 years in cable television. We are talking with Jake in Austin, Texas. The date is April 19, 2002. This is a part of the oral history program of the National Cable Television Center and is funded by a grant by the Gustav Hauser Foundation. Jake, how did you get into the cable television business?
LANDRUM: Jim, quite by chance really. When I was in the service I was stationed in Roswell, New Mexico for several years and I got to know a local man fairly well and he and a young man that a lot of us know and remember by the name of Brown Walker, from Graham, Texas. Had just gotten the franchise in Roswell to build a system and he asked me, he said “Jake, how would like to get in the cable TV?” It wasn’t television then, it was TV.
KELLER: Were you in electronics when you were in the service?
LANDRUM: I had some electronic background. My primary field wasn’t electronics. It was special weapons. I had taken a course in electronics because when I was in the reserve prior to going into active duty, I was in an electronic squadron. Anyway, he asked me if I wanted to get into the business called cable TV that they were fixed to build the system. I said “Well, I don’t know what cable TV is but if you think it’s a pretty good deal, well I’ll sure try.”
KELLER: This was 1959?
LANDRUM: This was in 1959. And I began by working for one of these labor contractors that had the contract to lash the cable in Roswell. A man by the name of Pete Collins.
KELLER: I remember Pete. A very close friend of mine.
LANDRUM: That was my first experience with cable. I worked with Pete through the entire construction
KELLER: Were you still in the service?
LANDRUM: No. No I had gotten out of the service – I got out of the service in February of 1959. I worked for Pete learning to climb those poles like anyone who works with Pete Collins is going to do. And then when the construction work was completed and this was all pre-arranged, I went to work for the cable system itself. Helped get the splicing completed and install the microwave link.
KELLER: Tell us what splicing means please, if you would.
LANDRUM: Well, you get all that cable up and a roll of cable has at least two ends, so you have to tie all those ends together so you’ll have one continuous piece of cable. And the tied end to the amplifiers.
KELLER: The connectors.
LANDRUM: The connectors which in those days didn’t amount to very much. You would take today’s splicer and you look at some of things we had to put on cable in those days, you’d say boy that wouldn’t work. (Laughter). But it did because we were just interested in getting 6 channels down that wire.
KELLER: You started out in the construction business and stayed more or less on the technical side of the business at that time?
LANDRUM: Pretty much yes. I stayed in the technical field operations side of out more than on the business management side of the business. Like I said when we got through building this system, there was one broadcast station in Roswell at that time. We had to get some signal down from Albuquerque to bring the three networks and the educational station from Albuquerque so we’d have 4 channels. Excuse me -- we would have 5 because we would have a local origination. Ran a lot of tape [fam]. Lot of [fam] in those days. Just something to take up channel space. And that’s kind of it in a nutshell of how I got started into it. Didn’t know anything about microwave.
KELLER: That’s how you got the signals in from Albuquerque?
LANDRUM: That’s how we brought the Albuquerque signals down.
KELLER: What’s the distance between Roswell and Albuquerque?
LANDRUM: Roswell and where?
KELLER: And Albuquerque where you were getting the signals?
LANDRUM: As the crow flies it was like 180 miles. Cross mountain ranges.
KELLER: How many hops of microwave did you get? Common carrier?
LANDRUM: Well we only had two hops. We had two hops. Well it was not common carrier at the time. In fact the equipment we were using was really portable equipment that Raytheon had developed and I guess due to price, I don’t know what brought the decision down but it was Raytheon gear that was really a portable type microwave. But we had some pretty long hops. But we had the ground clearance to do it with because we were going from high elevation to high elevation and in 6 megs stuff you can make some pretty long hops. At least in those days. I do remember though that the hop, the last hop into Roswell, we didn’t quite have the ground clearance we thought we were going to have on the hill that was about half way in between and we had to take about a 100 yard wide segment out of the top of that pasture hill off. Thank goodness that rancher allowed them to take that. Lowered the top of that hill about 20 feet. Now that path, that run became a common carrier in later years --in fact, that particular path is how the original LA signals got into New Mexico and West Texas, was down that particular length of microwave.
KELLER: Before the freeze was put on but the importation of distant signals.
KELLER: At that time you could do almost anything you wanted then.
LANDRUM: Yeah, a lot more than you can get away with in importing signals and stuff in the later years as you know, it got a little tight…
KELLER: As you were working in the Roswell system, how long did you stay there number one and how many subscribers did you have at that time?
LANDRUM: Jim, I stayed in Roswell for a little over three years. We had, as I remember, we got up to close to 3,000 subscribers. Roswell was a fair sized town. 35,000 people in those days with a very large SAC Air Force base sitting 8 miles from it. So there were a lot of people that lived there. A great deal of them had a paycheck coming from the government. Although it wasn’t much at least it was a paycheck. So the system did quite well to be an early system
KELLER: Classic market though it only had one signal in there.
LANDRUM: That’s correct. It only had one signal and you could put up all the antenna you wanted. You were not going to get anything else because this signal to you was Albuquerque and like I said that’s 170-80 miles over mountains. The other direction would have been Lubbock. Lubbock’s 200 miles and the broadcast stations in those days didn’t have the height in the towers that they have in these days. A good broadcaster had a 200-300 foot tower and that was it.
KELLER: What kind of equipment did you use in Roswell in ’59?
LANDRUM: We used Jerrold TV equipment because that was prior to the transistorized equipment. We used Jerrold; in fact that was a Jerrold, a modified Jerrold turnkey contract in Roswell.
KELLER: Do you remember did Jerrold take a fee for continuing maintenance of the system? Was that part of the contract? You remember that kind of deal though?
LANDRUM: No. The day the system accepted this system, we took over the maintenance that day.
KELLER: Who was the field engineer from Jerrold that was on that job? Do you recall?
LANDRUM: Yeah, Len Ecker.
KELLER: Len Ecker. It’s a portion of the industry that we’ve got to get on tape because those guys were really the guys that made this business go. The field engineers from Jerrold.
LANDRUM: Well, that is sure right. That’s sure right.
KELLER: Where did go after you left Roswell? And why did you leave Roswell?
LANDRUM: Jim, I was offered a job in the city that you and I are sitting in, that’s Austin, Texas, to help build and operate a system in this city.
KELLER: And that was John Campbell’s system?
LANDRUM: That was John Campbell’s system.
KELLER: What was the name of that?
LANDRUM: Austin Cable TV.
KELLER: And you had competition in Austin, didn’t you?
LANDRUM: Yes, by the time I got on the ground here we did have competition. Company by the name of Capital Cable.
KELLER: Owned by?
LANDRUM: Also had a franchise.
KELLER: For the entire city or did they divide the city?
LANDRUM: It was for the entire city. As John [?] his franchise for the entire city, we chose a certain geographic area to begin in and Capital chose another.
KELLER: Did you ever duplicate areas?
LANDRUM: Early on, no. Our primary goal which we fairly well accomplished was to outflank Capital Cable and box them in where they couldn’t get out of the area that they started in. And we were successful in doing that but maybe our success was also our downfall.
LANDRUM: Well, seemed like John Campbell’s money supply kind of dried up on him overnight.
KELLER: Was more than dried up as I recall because your competition was then Vice President of the United States and then President of the United States.
LANDRUM: He was Vice President and then became President at the time all this was going on, that’s correct.
KELLER: 1963. And you’re not going to make the accusation that he was instrumental in drying up the financial sources.
LANDRUM: I would never do that Jim.
KELLER: All right. I’ll ask John Campbell that.
LANDRUM: John would have firsthand knowledge, mine would be second hand.
KELLER: In any event, it was a difficult competitor.
LANDRUM: Very difficult.
KELLER: And he owned the television station in Austin?
LANDRUM: Also owned the only television station.
KELLER: And kept all other television operators out of them, correct or not?
LANDRUM: Well, whether he kept them out, I can’t say but I’ll tell you that Austin was a fair size city that had one television station in it where cities smaller than it had 2 and 3 stations.
KELLER: A larger city with only one television station. A piece of work but I will ask John Campbell a little bit more and go into detail about the Austin situation. How long did you stay in Austin?
LANDRUM: Not long enough. I would have stayed much longer had things not occurred like they did but…
KELLER: They forced you out of business, forced John out?
LANDRUM: Yup. Because [?] John was not a wealthy person in his own right. When his money supplies dried up, he was forced to sell to Capital Cable.
KELLER: He sold to Capital then?
KELLER: You used the term forced to sell. Do you use that advisedly?
LANDRUM: Well, by forced I mean he didn’t have the money to operate all. We didn’t have a subscriber base at the time because, although we were connecting people as fast as you could put wire in the house, just didn’t have the subscriber base to support the miles of plant that we put in there in pretty short order.
KELLER: And you did that because of competitive purposes, is that it?
LANDRUM: That’s correct. That’s correct.
KELLER: And how many homes did you pass in Austin when this finally sold out?
LANDRUM: Jim, I quite honestly don’t remember what that number was but of what was then Austin, we had had probably 75% of this market built. And the other company had about 25% of it.
KELLER: So the entire city at that time, and this is 1963, 64 was wired, is that correct?
LANDRUM: That’s correct. It was either wired or in the process of being wired right then, you know.
KELLER: Do you remember how many subscribers you finally ended up with? How many sold to Capital?
LANDRUM: I quite honestly, I don’t. I sure don’t.
KELLER: You would have liked to have stayed in Austin then?
LANDRUM: Oh sure, I would have loved to have stayed here. Not that it is not today, I don’t mean to imply that but in those days Austin was a nice city to live. Austin was a big country town. You didn’t have the traffic problems they’re experiencing today. It was just a…although much smaller than it is today by 250,000 - 300,000 people. It was a great place to live. But as things turned out, had to…I guess maybe I might have been able to stay had I been willing to go to the other side, but pride wouldn’t let me do that. (Laughter)
KELLER: Then Midwest Video actually operated at this point.
LANDRUM: That’s correct. Midwest Video was a part owner of Capital Cable and they were the operator.
KELLER: As I recall it was George Morrell, wasn’t it. Little Rock, Arkansas?
LANDRUM: That’s correct.
KELLER: He’s another piece of work. I say that respectfully. Then when you left here, when you were forced to leave here, what did you do then?
LANDRUM: Well, worked for a gentleman by the name of Bruce Merrill.
LANDRUM: Well, I didn’t go to work for AMECO. I went to work for American Cable. I moved from Austin to Waco. Put together the Waco Temple complex for him. We had not at that point of time began construction in Waco. That was forthcoming immediately but my initial job was to finalize the technical part of the Temple complex. Temple got built first. So I went in to the Temple Complex at the supply scene, field testing and everything started and then went up to Waco to begin working pole rideouts, engineering, strand mapping design, etc., etc. Later took to build, yeah, I had, we had the – for all intents and purposes we had Waco built and then Bruce asked me to move from American Cable over to AMECO.
KELLER: And that was doing what?
LANDRUM: As a, Jim, I guess you could better describe what I was doing for AMECO as a troubleshooter.
KELLER: You said troubleshooter?
LANDRUM: John couldn’t get pole clearances, he’d send me in. If they were having trouble with getting system fired up or working technically, I’d go in.
KELLER: Now these are AMECO systems, is that right?
LANDRUM: No these are turnkey systems he’s doing for other people
KELLER: Okay, but using AMECO equipment?
LANDRUM: Yes, using AMECO equipment.
KELLER: Prior to the transistor?
LANDRUM: No, this was transistor time. The initial equipment that we used here in Austin was AMECO transistorized. The mainline equipment was. Because the transistor had been developed… John Campbell had gotten his transistorized line extender and operational.
KELLER: Both ends, both in and out transistorized?
LANDRUM: Yes. And AMECO had their ATM70 equipment, I remember that number. How do I remember that number?
KELLER: See your forgetter’s not too bad at all.
LANDRUM: Yeah, my memory’s beginning to kick in a little bit. I think everyone with the exception of maybe Entron had finally made the conversion over to transistorized, amplifiers by that time. But I guess, I guess my primary duties with if you wanted me to put some type of handle on what I did for AMECO was troubleshooter.
KELLER: Well, you said if you couldn’t get pole clearances, you went in and worked out the problem. How did you do that?
LANDRUM: Well, Jim in some places you could find the right man in the power or telephone company and it would primarily be in the power company in those days, you could come to an understanding with them. With the telephone company there was no understanding because they only had two ways – their way or no way. In fact the first project I did when I went to work for AMECO – they had a contract, a turnkey contract to build a system in the big city of Plainview, Texas, which is about 30 miles north of Lubbock. But Southwest Bell would not even speak to them about pole contracts or…
KELLER: This must have been 1966 or around that era?
LANDRUM: Yeah, this was in late 1965, 66, in there and we set a lot of poles in Plainview, Texas. Thank goodness Plainview was a town, as most west Texas towns are, that had a ways. So we had a place to put those poles without trying to convince Miss Jones it sure would look good in her flower bed. (Laughter)
KELLER: How many towns did you build with your own poles?
LANDRUM: Goodness gracious, Jim, a bunch.
KELLER: A number.
LANDRUM: Yes, a bunch. Did we do the entire city, in all of them? No, because in the parts of town, in those days as you well know, pole ownership was for all intent and purposes a 50/50 deal between the power company and the telephone company. So when…
KELLER: The telephone company managed the poles?
LANDRUM: Well, not necessarily. They managed the poles that they owned. They had say so to who could get on them. So if you got in the part of town that poles belonged to the power company, then you could get on their poles. That’s assuming there was clearance to get on because if you had very much [?] to do there was involved in, you may become an old man before it every got done.
KELLER: To recall this era in history, the AT&T companies were refusing to allow any cable operator on the poles.
LANDRUM: That’s correct.
KELLER: They were insisting if you were going to go in to business in that town and correct me if I’m wrong, that you would have to lease the system. They would build the system and they would lease it to you, if you were going to go into business at all. Few people, if any at that time, took the leaseback arrangement from the telephone companies and the telephone companies pursued this course until finally the FCC stepped in and said “Hey, you can’t do that anymore.” That you must allow the cable operator on the pole at reasonable fees.
LANDRUM: That’s correct.
KELLER: Is that the case.
LANDRUM: That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.
KELLER: You were trying build systems under these circumstances at that time.
LANDRUM: We were building systems under pretty difficult circumstance considering that you have to get on someone’s pole.
KELLER: Or go underground.
LANDRUM: Or go underground. Underground in those days was not an option, a good option because the Bell companies were not even crazy about going underground in those days. The equipment, the technology to get that cable underground hadn’t been developed that well. You could dig that trench, that was easy to do but boring under that street was tough to do because there were no boring machines. Short of huge boring machines that do pipeline and that type of work. But there were no smaller versions of boring machines so you had to find a way to get from point A to point Bb and stay off of those phone poles because they would not allow you on them.
KELLER: Did you do much underground construction at that time?
LANDRUM: No, Jim there was very, very little underground construction done. All that was in rural communities, again communities that alleys. I don’t remember any large communities having hardly any underground because there were just, there weren’t any underground subdivisions in those days where everything was underground. The power company for home owner use, underground electrical service was virtually unheard of. Bell and the other general telephone, the other phone companies had big cable in the rural, state and county highways but very little in a town.
KELLER: Wasn’t it about this time that Bill Daniels and Bob Clark agreed to build Colorado Springs all underground?
LANDRUM: Yup, that’s right. That’s about that era when they were going to go in and do Colorado Springs completely underground. To put that market to bed. And then as memory tells us both, they got it done but it wasn’t easy.
KELLER: Oh, they lost their shirts in getting it done. They also offered the city 30% franchise fee or something outrageous as I recall. They wanted to get it done and they did it. So you were building out and now you’re out working in west Texas now, at this time putting together systems for AMECO turnkey, is that correct?
LANDRUM: Well when I got Plainview job that they asked me to take over on the turnkey, that I knew going into that, that was one system deal that they wanted me to do. They had really stuck their neck out on that job as to what, how they could perform, how good a system they could build, how quick.
KELLER: Who was the owner?
LANDRUM: The owner was Bass Broadcasting out of Fort Worth, Texas.
KELLER: This then takes us up to about mid-60s. How long did you stay with AMECO?
LANDRUM: Jim, I left AMECO in mid ’67 to go into the construction business for myself. The business was getting on a spread to a national client basis then and covering all those bases I was spending more time gone then I was at home and that didn’t fit what I really wanted to do that well. So I thought if I went into business for myself I could control my time a little better. How little I knew. (Laughter) Got into the construction business myself and never was home then.
KELLER: How long were you in the business?
LANDRUM: About 2 ½ years. That’s when the bottom kind of fell out of the money situation for all of cable and I had a partner in the construction business. I wasn’t in it all by myself but I got an offer from then Continental Telephone.
KELLER: Which Frank Drendel involved in it then?
LANDRUM: Beg pardon?
KELLER: Was Frank Drendel involved with the Continental Telephone Company then?
LANDRUM: Frank, if he was not with them then, came shortly thereafter. I went to work – they asked me to manage their southwest division, remembering now the phone companies wouldn’t let you get on the poles but they would be glad to own those cable systems. So I took over the operation out of their Dallas division office. Managing their systems in Texas, Louisiana, a part of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Jim, I stayed with Continental for a year. It didn’t take me long to learn that Continental was not serious about being in the cable television business. They were only in it to keep someone else from being in town. They were a fine company, great people but I was not interested in playing with those systems. I wanted to do something with them. Make them good operating systems. Continental didn’t really want to get many subscribers on.
KELLER: You say this was before Frank Drendel came in to Continental.
LANDRUM: Frank came with Continental while I was with them and if I recall Frank was working out of Memphis in those days. I believe Memphis is where he was working out of.
KELLER: I thought he was out of Illinois but I could be wrong.
LANDRUM: He had not been with Continental very long and I don’t believe he was with them when I first went with them. He came on shortly thereafter.
KELLER: This was what, when you were with Continental in the late ‘60s now?
LANDRUM: Yeah, it’s like 1968, into early 1969 and I had a company headquartered here in Austin by the name of Commco come to me and offer me a job as VP of operations.
KELLER: Who were the principles of Commco?
LANDRUM: The ownership of Commco was a gentleman of the name of Walter Jenkins.
KELLER: Okay, former assistant to President Johnson?
LANDRUM: That’s correct. That’s correct. Jay O’Neal was the president of Commco.
KELLER: Former quarterback at Oklahoma?
LANDRUM: Former quarterback at the University of Oklahoma. Had gotten into the cable television business through his acquaintances with the Schneiders and Jack Crosby and some others. They were in need of someone to look after the operations systems.
KELLER: Was Commco a forerunner of CPI?
LANDRUM: No, Commco was in existence before CPI. That was when Gencoe, Syntex Cable and a few others kind of molded themselves together, Telesystems and probably others that I was either not aware of or can’t recall right now formed CPI.
KELLER: So Jack Crosby was not part of Commco?
LANDRUM: That’s correct.
KELLER: Fred Lieberman, was he part of it?
LANDRUM: No. No, the only ownership in Commco was Walter Jenkins.
KELLER: So you went to work for Jenkins to operate his systems?
LANDRUM: That’s correct, yeah. We had real small…
KELLER: He was doing the politics and going around and getting the franchises and things?
LANDRUM: No, really and truly he wasn’t. Walter never got involved in the, any part of the cable television operation. By his former association, he just knew that it was an up and coming business and wanted to get into the business.
KELLER: And wanted to push the buttons.
LANDRUM: And Jay happened to be Walter’s nephew.
KELLER: I wasn’t aware of that.
LANDRUM: Yes, Jay was Walter’s nephew and Walter hired Jay to come run this company that he was putting together to purchase, build cable television systems. Confining themselves to small rural type communities.
KELLER: And this was in the early 70s.
LANDRUM: With no aspiration of ever going into the big cities.
KELLER: This was the early 70s?
LANDRUM: This was in the late 60s to early 70s, yes. In fact, I came back to Austin, Jim, I think it was somewhere around July or August of 1969 to become associated with Commco.
KELLER: What happened to Commco then?
LANDRUM: After several years, this being about late 1977 I guess…
KELLER: So you were with them 7 years?
LANDRUM: Walter… yeah. Jay had left and to go on and do bigger and better things with his life. I took over the complete operation after Jay left in 75, I believe.
KELLER: How large was Commco at this time?
LANDRUM: Jim, we had – Commco had about 10,000 subscribers scattered over Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kentucky. All small systems but good, classical little systems. We had gotten to the point where we had to – you had to grow some more and Walter’s ability to finance that growth in those times of not much money, banks still didn’t understand the business. Money’s hard to come by. He had to make a decision on what he was going to do. So he wound up selling the systems not as a group. Some of them in smaller groups but the company as a whole didn’t sell to anyone person. It was kind of parceled off to different buyers. We remained in the construction business after the systems were gone. We remained in the construction business. In fact, when I left Commco, they were still in the construction business.
KELLER: And you were heading up the construction business also.
LANDRUM: Yes, I also headed up the construction business.
KELLER: At that time then, you must have become involved with the Texas Cable Association.
LANDRUM: Well, I’m became involved with the Texas Cable Association in the late 60s, early 70s. Late 60s. After I came with Commco, people that were truly in the cable television business, they would allow me to do so; I became very involved with the cable association in the state of Texas.
KELLER: You were on the board for a lot of years. You were secretary. You were treasurer, weren’t you? And ended up being president of that association.
LANDRUM: That’s right.
KELLER: What year were you president?
LANDRUM: Jim, I was president of the Texas Association in 78-79 year.
KELLER: What were the major problems facing the Association in 1978 and 1979?
LANDRUM: The big problem was pole attachments.
KELLER: Same old problem again.
LANDRUM: Same old problem. Hadn’t changed. The FCC had legislated that the Bell companies had to let you on those poles but at that point in time they didn’t have the right to tell them what they could charge for those poles. They were wanting dollars that you couldn’t even comprehend in those days.
KELLER: Oh yeah I can.
LANDRUM: To get on they were wanting more money than they’re getting nowadays, you know, thirty years later.
KELLER: After the FCC capped it.
LANDRUM: Money, the rental on those poles I guess in the year that I was president. The main problem we had that year was General Telephone. They had kind of taken a page out of the Bell companies’ book and decided they would become a tough guy and make their contracts almost unsignable with pole attachment rates that you couldn’t even think about paying. I can say with some pride that we were able to get that to a contract that at least you weren’t afraid to sign. You didn’t like it but you weren’t afraid to sign it. You weren’t signing your life and business away. And to get them to hold a rate, a livable rate in the, I think we were in the $2.10 range, to get them to hold that for a number of years, something that we were not be able to successfully do in other parts of the country and in most states were the Bell systems in those days.
KELLER: Was it at this time that the PUC in Texas was being formed or was that earlier?
LANDRUM: No, the PUC in Texas was formed, well let me be wrong a year or so, Jim, but the PUC was formed in 1975, 76 somewhere right in that time frame.
KELLER: There’s a story involved in that too in the legislation, the act that created the public utilities commission, was a clause in there that allowed them to regulate fully as a public utility cable television systems, was that correct?
LANDRUM: The legislatures, excuse me, of the state of Texas created an act, wrote and act creating a commission. This public utility commission had, forgive me for not remembering the exact time frame, they had like six months, somewhere in that time frame, to put together what they were going to regulate, telephone, power, gas, cable television, whatever they felt fell under their realm of control. Take this back to the Senate, state senate who would ratify all of this. When it went back to the senate, cable television was in the public utility regulatory.
KELLER: As a full utility?
LANDRUM: As a utility, yes.
KELLER: So what ensued then?
LANDRUM: Well, remember that the paper work is back at senate, the senate is fixing to act making that the law of the land. Thank goodness for some personal friendship with the then lieutenant governor, was also the president of the senate, we were able to get…
KELLER: Who had this relationship?
LANDRUM: Beg pardon?
KELLER: Who had this relationship with the lieutenant governor, president of the senate?
LANDRUM: A young man by the name of Bill Jenkins.
KELLER: We’re still talking about Jenkins again.
KELLER: Not Walter Jenkins. This is Bill Jenkins.
LANDRUM: This is Bill Jenkins, who happens to be Walter’s nephew.
KELLER: And had some political connections?
LANDRUM: He had worked for Governor Hobby. For quite some time. Helped to win one of his campaigns, worked on his staff. At that time of need, he was able to get Hobby’s ear. Was able to get in that door before the senate acted. When the bill was voted on, cable television was exempt by definition.
LANDRUM: From the utility regulatory.
KELLER: And stands until today?
LANDRUM: That’s the way it stands as of today.
KELLER: And you took some credit for that or were you a part of the lobbying effort?
LANDRUM: Well, along with a lot of other people. I spent a little time seeing legislators that I knew and could call upon and a lot of them I’d never seen, never heard of before. (Laughter)
KELLER: You’re a great master of the understatement, I’ll tell you that. Anyhow…
LANDRUM: That was a time of crisis, we just couldn’t become, in those days, we just couldn’t up under the PUC. We never would have survived with the whole thing because we weren’t well enough established to have as a quote “industry”.
KELLER: Correct. I remember those days very, very well. You then, shortly thereafter went to work for Clive Runnells, is that correct?
LANDRUM: With a little stop in between Commco, yes I went to work for CPI.
KELLER: Jack Crosby, Bob Hughes, that crowd?
LANDRUM: That’s right. Hughes, Crosby, Conroy, that bunch. I went to work for them as their corporate outside plant manager. They wanted to get to the point that they could do their own mapping all the way through electronic design so they wouldn’t have to rely so much on manufacturers to do the design. That’s kind of like a wolf being in the hen house, you know. So I put together for them a design department where we could take it from ground zero to a completed operating project. Put together some construction standards, installation standards. Which I’m proud to say have been modified necessarily through the years as by necessity but they are still used by quite a few companies. Those standards are. Anyway, that’s when CPI was bought out by the Times Mirror group.
KELLER: That’s the Times Mirror, Los Angeles Times newspaper in Los Angeles.
LANDRUM: That’s correct.
KELLER: And you just loved to go to Southern California?
LANDRUM: Oh yeah.
KELLER: Old Texas boy in Los Angeles.
LANDRUM: Very nice people. Very nice people but I told them that I just couldn’t find myself living and raising a family in Southern California. I had been there enough under other circumstances and I just would pass on their offer and I really did appreciate it. That’s when I became associated with Clive Runnells and Mid-Coast Cable Television.
KELLER: And you stayed with them for over 20 years, 21 years.
LANDRUM: Yeah, when I retired last year in 2001, I had been with Mr. Runnells for 21 ½ years.
KELLER: And you ran his systems for him, is that correct?
LANDRUM: I ran everything for him. Yup.
KELLER: So your final job of 21 years with Mid-Coast to operate Clive Runnells systems, what was your relationship with Clive?
KELLER: Refine some of that.
LANDRUM: He’s a man that has a lot of things to do. He never stands still. He’s always on the move. He gives you a job and leaves you alone.
KELLER: That’s a good way be.
LANDRUM: Does not require you to be highly structured but if you had to be highly structured I would never have been able to go for work for him because I’ve never been a highly structured person. I like to leave myself in a position where I can move at a moment’s notice rather than having to go through 14 layers of bureaucracy to get something done.
KELLER: You don’t want to go by the book. You want to write the book.
LANDRUM: That’s right. Adhere to the book maybe but not go by it. It was a good experience.
KELLER: Obviously for 21 years.
LANDRUM: To find someone that would say “Okay, here’s my company. Here’s what I would like to see happen over the years” with no definite timeframe but progress forward and leave you alone.
KELLER: And you accomplished that?
LANDRUM: I accomplished what he was looking for. If I didn’t he should have sent me packing before 21 years.
KELLER: Does he still own those systems?
LANDRUM: Jim, he owns the basic core of those systems plus a couple of smaller communities that we picked up in mid to late 1990s. Some of the systems that we originally had when I went to work for him – in fact one of them by far the largest being Bay City…
KELLER: That’s down on the Gulf right?
LANDRUM: Yes. It’s down close to the Gulf. There was five other communities that the company wanted more than he wanted to keep it. So we accepted some of their money and let them have them. At that point in time I moved my base of operation – at that time I was based in and made my office in Bay City because it was by far the larger community but we sold and I moved my office to El Campo and we began to put together another little company.
KELLER: Also with Mr. Runnells?
LANDRUM: All of them, yes with Mr. Runnells. He’s the sole – well I think maybe his wife Nancy may be for tax reasons I think she owns 1% of Mid-Coast. But all for him. We bought and sold some systems through the years but never under the name, never under the umbrella of Mid-Coast. If it came under the umbrella of Mid-Coast, it stayed there. Mid-Coast didn’t buy and sell systems because that was his little company.
KELLER: And other than run those systems for Mid-Coast what else were you involved in? Did you stay involved in the Association?
LANDRUM: Jim, I stayed involved with the Association up until the day that I retired. I would like to think that I could stay involved with the Association somewhat. This past February for their convention and trade show they asked me to stay down and work through that and they’ve invited me to stay on and help them put together the 2003 show. Which I’m proud to do. So hopefully I can stay involved although somewhat on the outside but stay involved with what’s going on, being able to see some old friends and acquaintances at least once a year.
KELLER: So while you were operating Mid-Coast you were still working almost full time I would say with the Association and you were involved with it very much?
LANDRUM: Jim, I spent, I can’t even tell you how many, I spent a lot of years working with the Association and as I was saying I may help with this year’s tradeshow and convention and that was my 26th show to put on for the Association.
KELLER: You know, I never attended the Texas Show either and I don’t know why.
LANDRUM: I’ve enjoyed every minute of working for the state association. Didn’t pay too much but sure was fun.
KELLER: They doubled it each year didn’t they?
LANDRUM: It was a lot of fun.
KELLER: When you first became involved with the Association, John [Mankin] Senior was the executive director.
LANDRUM: That’s correct.
KELLER: He turned it over then to Bill Arnold and Bill’s been there ever since.
LANDRUM: That’s correct.
KELLER: 20 years or more?
LANDRUM: if you’ll recall John [Mankin] Senior was non-paid executive director.
KELLER: I wasn’t aware of that.
LANDRUM: He was always employed as a cable system manager.
KELLER: At Tyler.
LANDRUM: At Tyler. That’s right. Well, when John decided he wanted to retire, he was getting up in age, was not in the peak of health and everything, he knew he needed to step down. What John had been able to do all those years on a volunteer basis was not to be had any longer in the industry. It just was not to be had. So the Association had to step up and say okay we’ve got to hire “an executive director” for this if we’re going to continue to have an association in the state of Texas. So we approached Bill Arnold, who was at that point still with CPI, and Bill took a liking to the idea and we were lucky enough to get Bill to come on and run the Association and he did a great job.
KELLER: And still is doing a great job or is he retired now?
LANDRUM: As of March 31, Bill doesn’t go to work anymore.
KELLER: Three weeks ago.
LANDRUM: Three weeks ago. In fact I got him leaving a day or so early. See the 31st was on a Sunday right? Anyway the Thursday…
KELLER: The 31st was Easter.
LANDRUM: Friday would have been his last day. He calls me at home on Thursday about 5 o’clock and he said I just want to let you know I am not going into the office tomorrow or Monday. (Laughter)
KELLER: Who’s running the Association now?
LANDRUM: They have hired a lady by the name Amanda [Batson] -- Jim I’m not going to recall her last name because it escapes me. I’ve met her, been around her some. She seems to be extremely sharp. She has association experience. She has a PhD in education.
KELLER: Going high class now.
LANDRUM: Was the director of the Association for Gifted and Talented Students in the state of Texas.
KELLER: Boy has she got a problem with the cable industry.
LANDRUM: I explained to her that she was stepping down in knowledge a whole lot. But hopefully and I’m sure it is going to be in good hands. Will they ever replace Bill Arnold, I’m not sure. Johnny Mankin and Bill Arnold are irreplaceable. You just hope to continue on at least as good as they did.
KELLER: Now where did John [Mankin] Jr. fit in to this whole picture?
LANDRUM: John when he finally moved back to Texas being in the cable television business as you recall John was in Tulsa for a long time. To be on the board in the state of Texas you must reside and operate a system in the state of Texas. When he came back for Bill Daniels, running the Waco stuff for him, John got on the board and spent his years working for the Association. Worked his way up as the president. Got off the board for a few years and eventually got that itching and came back on.
KELLER: I had the idea that he was at one time the executive director, but that must be wrong.
LANDRUM: No, as we all fondly call him, Little John never was the executive director. That was Big John
KELLER: That was Big John and that’s the first time I ever heard that Big John never had a salary as the executive director.
LANDRUM: A paycheck he never drew. Drank some good whiskey. (Laughter)
KELLER: I think we’ll edit out that. This has been the oral history of Jake H. Landrum, one guy that did it all and could do it all in the cable television business. It’s been great fun talking to you again after all these years Jake. I just wanted you to know that you added an awful lot to the information collecting in this oral history program. Again thank you Jake and your interviewer was Jim Keller. Thanks much.
LANDRUM: Jim, thank you.