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Howard Huge

History of cable and satellite tv in Houston

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Id like to hear some of our older posters tell us all about the history of cable and satellite in Houston. :)

I have many questions like:

Who was the first cable provider?

First satellite provider?

Was there any competition?

What programming were those old gigantic satellites in peoples backyards that were like 15 feet across? What channels were available?

I remember going to my grandparents house in the early 80s and they had one of these:post-9042-0-81621700-1393118698.jpg

What company was this?

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I don't know if it was the first of its kind around here, but in the early 60s when NASA was moving in and Nassau Bay was coming into existence, somebody came up with the idea of a "Community Antenna TV System" (CATV) and every home there would be connected to it by cable. I believe the thinking was that since everybody who lived there worked for NASA or a NASA contractor, residents could have access to important NASA information and notices by just turning on the TV.

 

The system was named Phonoscope, and it was a flop because NASA never put much of its info on the cable. The studio was in the old Nassau Bay Professional building on Upper Bay Road, and it operated only sporadically because Phonoscope didn't have people there running it all the time. Most of the time it just showed old movies, and when the movie ended the screen went blank.

 

They did a gimmicky cross promotion with the easy listening FM radio station I worked at down the hall, KMSC 102.1. (now KMJQ Majiq 102) In addition to carrying our radio signal, they put two small wall mounted cameras in the control room, one pointed at the DJ, the other at an easle where we put the album cover of the record we were playing. The DJ camera came on when we opened the mike to talk, and when we weren't talking, viewers - if there were any -- could see the name of what we were playing. Very exciting stuff. No wonder it died after only a couple of years.

 

I see trucks with the name Phonoscope on the side around Houston from time to time, but I doubt it's the same company.

Edited by FilioScotia
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I don't know if it was the first of its kind around here, but in the early 60s when NASA was moving in and Nassau Bay was coming into existence, somebody came up with the idea of a "Community Antenna TV System" (CATV) and every home there would be connected to it by cable. I believe the thinking was that since everybody who lived there worked for NASA or a NASA contractor, residents could have access to important NASA information and notices by just turning on the TV.

 

The system was named Phonoscope, and it was a flop because NASA never put much of its info on the cable. The studio was in the old Nassau Bay Professional building on Upper Bay Road, and it operated only sporadically because Phonoscope didn't have people there running it all the time. Most of the time it just showed old movies, and when the movie ended the screen went blank.

 

They did a gimmicky cross promotion with the easy listening FM radio station I worked at down the hall, KMSC 102.1. (now KMJQ Majiq 102) In addition to carrying our radio signal, they put two small wall mounted cameras in the control room, one pointed at the DJ, the other at an easle where we put the album cover of the record we were playing. The DJ camera came on when we opened the mike to talk, and when we weren't talking, viewers - if there were any -- could see the name of what we were playing. Very exciting stuff. No wonder it died after only a couple of years.

 

I see trucks with the name Phonoscope on the side around Houston from time to time, but I doubt it's the same company.

 

Judging from the Wikipedia article on Phonoscope Communications, and the HBJ piece on Lee Cook referenced in it, I'd bet it's the same company.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonoscope_Communications

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I'll be damned. I remember Lee Cook coming and going from my radio station down the hall from Phonoscope. He was friends with the station owner John "Shorty" Powers. I never knew till today that he was the owner of Phonoscope. That explains the gimmicky cross promotion deal I described in my first response here.

 

I also have to say that if the Nassau Bay Phonoscope operation was an example of Cook's "expertise" in building a cable TV system, I have to wonder how he has survived in that business. I will say only that I was never impressed with it. 

Edited by FilioScotia

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Thanks for the responses guys, great info!

So does anyone know who the cable provider for those slider boxes in the pic was?

It couldnt have been Warner cable, I dont think they came around til the late 80s.

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quote from somewhere else on the internet:

 

 

Houston had the following Cable Companies in the 80's

1. Warner-Amex (which owned QUBE) Qube was the name of the first two-way cable box)
2. Storer Cable (Pasadena, Clear Lake, Spring which also received Warner later on)
3. TCI (Lake Jackson, Freeport, Jones Creek got bought out by Cablevision) (Now served by Comcast)
4. Jones-Spacelink (served Rosenburg, and scrambled MTV via phone line)
5. Phonoscope (out in the rural areas, I think Verizon took them over)

 

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I'll be damned. I remember Lee Cook coming and going from my radio station down the hall from Phonoscope. He was friends with the station owner John "Shorty" Powers. I never knew till today that he was the owner of Phonoscope. That explains the gimmicky cross promotion deal I described in my first response here.

 

I also have to say that if the Nassau Bay Phonoscope operation was an example of Cook's "expertise" in building a cable TV system, I have to wonder how he has survived in that business. I will say only that I was never impressed with it. 

 

Phonoscope is still around.  They do provide cable to some apartment complexes scattered around town, but are more know for their huge fiber network around town that is used mainly by businesses, schools, and cell companies to link their facilities.  

Edited by technoevil

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My first cable company was Gulf Coast Cable when I lived in the apartments that used to be where the YMCA and Library on Stella Link are now. Awesome picture quality and service. Them they got bought by Time Warner, and became mostly mediocre.

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I wonder if Houston ever had a super station like TBS or WGN.???

 

It did.  Sort of.  In the early days of "superstations" they didn't have to be national, they could be regional.  What is now KIAH was a regional superstation, as it was carried on CATV systems across Texas, the Gulf Coast, and parts of the Midwest. 

 

Today the only remaining superstation is what is currently called WGN America.  TBS gave up its superstation status maybe ten years ago.  

 

Don't expect WGN America to retain its superstation status much longer.  There's no money in it.  And now that it's dropped the evening news, never carried the morning news, and its about to lose the rights to Cubs games, expected it to become just another channel nobody watches.

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I noticed they dropped the 9:00 PM news on WGN America.

Editor, when did they drop the evening news ?

They also moved "In The Heat of the Night" to the weekends.

"Walker, Texas Ranger" was moved up to weekday mornings 8:00 AM & 9:00 AM

Edited by Blue Dogs

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Prime Cable was a system I remember growing up in the 90's. They might have merged with TCI.

 

One apartment we had Phonoscope for a while. They merged a few times, I think before that it was called "OpTel". Originally when we moved there, the landlord ran their own proprietary cable company, they had like 10 huge satellites on some adjacent land. Only problem is that they forgot to bill anyone, so everyone got all of the premium channels for years before they tore down the satellites.

 

In 1998 we moved to an apartment complex served by TCI, they were offering the "innovative" new digital cable which we had for 6 months. You could only get 1 cable box, and they also deleted 10 analog channels in order to provide the 80 or so digital ones. Time Warner did not add digital until at least 2002 at the house we moved to.

 

For info about satellite, look at the national services like Direct TV, they are all national providers.

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Prime Cable was a system I remember growing up in the 90's. They might have merged with TCI.

 

One apartment we had Phonoscope for a while. They merged a few times, I think before that it was called "OpTel". Originally when we moved there, the landlord ran their own proprietary cable company, they had like 10 huge satellites on some adjacent land. Only problem is that they forgot to bill anyone, so everyone got all of the premium channels for years before they tore down the satellites.

 

In 1998 we moved to an apartment complex served by TCI, they were offering the "innovative" new digital cable which we had for 6 months. You could only get 1 cable box, and they also deleted 10 analog channels in order to provide the 80 or so digital ones. Time Warner did not add digital until at least 2002 at the house we moved to.

 

For info about satellite, look at the national services like Direct TV, they are all national providers.

 

What areas of town?  In Sugar Land (First Colony) we had TCI until around 97 or 98 when Time Warner took it over, the Comcast took over that when they took over Time Warner in Houston.

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4. Jones-Spacelink (served Rosenburg, and scrambled MTV via phone line)

 

 

I don't think it was MTV that was scrambled as it was always available at my house from what I remember, and my parents didn't pay for any of the premium channels until later, when they bought a converter for Disney Channel.

 

Back in the late 80s & early 90s, Ch. 5 was HBO, Ch. 16 was Showtime,  Ch. 17 was Cinemax & 22 was Disney. At some point in the mid or late 90s, The Disney Channel was added to the basic lineup. The game for the former 2 was to always see if you could make out ANYTHING that was happening, which happened to varying degrees of success. KTFH, KXLN & KTMD, I think, were only added to the lineup in the early 90s, like around 1991 or 92. That was about the time when they finally grouped the locals together on the lineup.

 

One of the neat things about Jones Spacelink was Ch.2 - ME/U - Mind Extension University. It was mostly college courses and different associated programming but I liked that they aired Deutsche Welle news in several languages at a certain time in the evening as well as a Russian newscast, even if all I could understand was the English language DW newscast.

 

Jones Spacelink became TCI Cablevision in the mid 90s, then Time Warner later on, and is presently Comcast. Pretty much a downward trend IMHO.

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I think it was TCI in the early 80s.  I just remember that ugly brown remote like thing with a thick white cord and 1 row of white mechanical push buttons.  I was an early DirecTV adopter and installed my little dish on my front porch.  The wife was pissed and said we were the only rednecks in Montrose.

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We had friends that lived in Galveston. In the 60's mosts homes on the island had an outside antenna that had a remote dail inside the home that changed the aim of the antenna toward each broadcaster's tower as you changed stations on your set. Us kids got a kick out of hanging out of the upstairs window just to watch the antenna move around. (cheap entertainment).In the ealy 70's a company named Telepromter Cable entered Galveston and offered better reception for local VHF and UHF stations, along with some variaty including Beaumont and Chicago television stations (Probably WGN). You could even watch Galveston City Council meetings on a local access station. We did not have that kind of service in Houston until years later.

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So. I know Lee Cook personally, and this week is his 90th (maybe) birthday.

Here is the Phonoscope history - put together by Eleanor Whitty - who was instrumental in beginning the exhaustive task of pushing Mr. Cook into advertising the history of this amazing company - as his preference is to be WAY BELOW the radar.

 

He still runs Phonoscope and has always been the CEO. They did sell off their cable subscribers in the 90's & 2000's - but never got rid of their main business - which is fiber optics to companies.

 

They are now going into Fiber to the Home and have been approached by Google - Sarah Schlager is heading this up and is re-vamping their website which will be released in 2016. They are a phenomenal family owned company. Mr. Lee Cook philanthropically gives to Houston Technology Center to promote new ideas and businesses. He is also very involved in politics, having a channel (or 3) dedicated to unveiling government lies.  I haven't worked for this company in 10 years - but my profound respect for this company will remain forever. Mr. Lee Cook was my mentor. He hires amazing talent and pushes people to do their best. 

 

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I remember when Prime Cable in Sugar Land only went as high as channel 36 back around 1992, and went beyond that around 1994. There was quite a big difference in cable choices between Sugar Land and Missouri City back then: Sugar Land's cable TV offerings were less robust than Missouri City's Warner Cable system up until the two systems merged circa 1999, and it was not until 2002 when Time Warner dropped Sugar Land's own channel lineup (shared with Richmond) and replaced it with one for the entire metro area. I noticed this because I had a grandaunt who lived over in Quail Valley, and later an aunt who resided on the Missouri City side of First Colony, and their cable TV offerings were more robust.

 

What I do remember (or at least can guess, hence the "?"s) of the channels circa '92...

 

1: Cinemax

2: KPRC (swapped with KTMD circa '94)

3: The Disney Channel? (on basic cable unlike Warner Cable which still had them on a premium tier)

4: The Movie Channel

5: HBO

6: KRIV?

7: TBS?

8: KUHT

9: KHTV?

10: KTXH?

11: KHOU

12: KTMD (swapped with KPRC circa '94)

13: KTRK

14: Showtime?

15: Request PPV
16: TNT?

17: VH1?

18: WGN?

19: KXLN?

20: Prevue Guide?

21: HSE (later Prime Sports and eventually Fox Sports SW)

22: Comedy Central

23: MTV

24: A&E?

25: Headline News?

26: The Discovery Channel?

27: TNN

28: ESPN

29: AMC

30: Nickelodeon?

31: BET

32: USA

33: Lifetime

34: The Weather Channel

35: CNN

36: CNBC

 

That's 36 channels in all, and they did not even have converter boxes readily available at that time. I remember having to turn to an antenna to watch KNWS, KHSH or what eventually became KPXB (when it was a Galavision station) back then in the pre-"must carry" years.

 

By 1994, they started issuing converter boxes and would add Cartoon Network, CMT, Sci Fi, TLC, E!, ESPN2 and Flix in addition to KNWS and what eventually became KUBE (it was another shopping channel airing Value Vision and infomercials), along with an expanded PPV service and its own dedicated preview channel, a community TV channel covering Sugar Land City Council, Fort Bend ISD football and basketball games and community affairs programming, and two additional HBO channels. They would add Odyssey, Food Network and HGTV the following year I believe.

 

Over time, the basic lineups went to 68 channels by 1997 when TCI took over for Prime and started offering digital cable services, before eventually being absorbed into Time Warner by 1999 and dropping Sugar Land's channel lineup for the Houston one already utilized in Missouri City by 2002 (this was also around the time Nickelodeon moved to accommodate News 24 Houston, remember that?), including even the basic blue screens Warner Cable broadcast customer service information in English and Spanish on.

 

As for outside of Sugar Land, I recall TCI stirred controversy after it took over Storer's cable systems and dropped BET to accommodate KNWS because of new federal "must carry" rules, which made the Chronicle. They were going to drop EWTN/TBN, but religious stations were reportedly protected.

 

That was not the last time; they also dropped A&E, TNN and WGN before they were about to merge with Time Warner which led to angry calls to the FCC from many cable subscribers. Needless to say, that also made the Chronicle as well as the local TV news.

 

Of course, we can start seeing plenty of attrition in cable TV these days, given so many are unwilling to fork over hordes of money to pay for channels they don't even watch. I can understand paying for CNN to get Fox News and ESPN, but the same can't really be said for say, MTV Classic or Chiller. NBC/Comcast already got rid of G4 and Cloo and they're fixing to drop Esquire, likely with no replacements in sight. The "skinny bundle" really is that big of a deal, since it's basically the popular channels we got in the 90s and then some.

 

In closing, I will also add that Kingwood had its own cable service during the 90s simply called "Kingwood Cablevision", which eventually became Suddenlink, and United Artists also operated in The Woodlands around that time as well. There was also Group W Cable in Galveston around the 80s, operating out of the former KGUL-TV facilities on the island, I believe? I could go on and on, but I'd like to stop here and get a big, deep collective breath.

Edited by stan the man

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KVVV Ch. 15.3 Pinoy Houston TV for the Filipino American community.

 

Houston used to have MBCD Ch. 51.5 for the Korean American community until August 23rd, 2016.

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On 4/5/2017 at 2:09 PM, Blue Dogs said:

KVVV Ch. 15.3 Pinoy Houston TV for the Filipino American community.

 

Houston used to have MBCD Ch. 51.5 for the Korean American community until August 23rd, 2016.

 

Is this user some kind of bot or something? That has nothing to do with old analog cable television. 

 

 

On 4/4/2017 at 7:42 PM, stan the man said:

What I do remember (or at least can guess, hence the "?"s) of the channels circa '92...

 

1: Cinemax

 

Was that really on channel 1? That would be pretty rare. For some reason cable systems never used channel 1.

 

Converter boxes would sometimes put something on channel 1 but it was not really on the actual "channel 1", by which I mean the channel with a center frequency of 75 MHz - channel 1 when you plugged the cable directly into the TV.

 

On cable systems channel 1 is actually between channels 4 and 5. Channels 95-99 are actually right after channel 6! After channel 99, is really channel 14! I don't really know why it's done like this.

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We got Storer Cable at our house in 1981 had it until 1985. This was the box we had. Still remember what it felt like to use it and turn that dial on the right to fine tune the channel. Storer must have served southeast Houston because we had it in Overbrook. I have family from my mom and dad's side on a small block of houses on Super Street in 2nd Ward and they all had Storer Cable. I can still remember my aunt yelling at my cousin for sliding that dial too fast across the box, I got it trouble for that too.

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On 12/9/2017 at 6:52 AM, MikeRichardson said:

 

Is this user some kind of bot or something? That has nothing to do with old analog cable television. 

 

 

 

Was that really on channel 1? That would be pretty rare. For some reason cable systems never used channel 1.

 

Converter boxes would sometimes put something on channel 1 but it was not really on the actual "channel 1", by which I mean the channel with a center frequency of 75 MHz - channel 1 when you plugged the cable directly into the TV.

 

On cable systems channel 1 is actually between channels 4 and 5. Channels 95-99 are actually right after channel 6! After channel 99, is really channel 14! I don't really know why it's done like this.

Channel 1 was either a Reserved For Future Use graphic (but never was used) or static. John Lander used to say they were on TV channel 1 during the morning show (Wave to everyone watching) but they weren't. 

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On 2/24/2014 at 11:51 AM, FilioScotia said:

I don't know if it was the first of its kind around here, but in the early 60s when NASA was moving in and Nassau Bay was coming into existence, somebody came up with the idea of a "Community Antenna TV System" (CATV) and every home there would be connected to it by cable. I believe the thinking was that since everybody who lived there worked for NASA or a NASA contractor, residents could have access to important NASA information and notices by just turning on the TV.

 

The system was named Phonoscope, and it was a flop because NASA never put much of its info on the cable. The studio was in the old Nassau Bay Professional building on Upper Bay Road, and it operated only sporadically because Phonoscope didn't have people there running it all the time. Most of the time it just showed old movies, and when the movie ended the screen went blank.

 

They did a gimmicky cross promotion with the easy listening FM radio station I worked at down the hall, KMSC 102.1. (now KMJQ Majiq 102) In addition to carrying our radio signal, they put two small wall mounted cameras in the control room, one pointed at the DJ, the other at an easle where we put the album cover of the record we were playing. The DJ camera came on when we opened the mike to talk, and when we weren't talking, viewers - if there were any -- could see the name of what we were playing. Very exciting stuff. No wonder it died after only a couple of years.

 

I see trucks with the name Phonoscope on the side around Houston from time to time, but I doubt it's the same company.

 

I've seen this done in rural areas, too.  A single large antenna connected to surrounding homes so they can get reception from cities out of range of normal residential pole antennas.

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