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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Posted by on Sep 15th, 2016 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Cable TV Wars – The Story of Crescenta Valley Cable

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

When we think of TV reception in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we think of “rabbit ears” on top of the TV set or of space-age looking antennas mounted on our roofs. Both these options often involved elaborate adjusting of the antennas depending on the location and strength of the transmitters. TV signals had trouble with mountainous terrain, so in parts of the Crescenta Valley, particularly above Foothill Boulevard, reception was dicey. A solution to this problem was conceived in the late ‘40s. A larger, more powerful “community receiver” could be installed for a group of homes, and coaxial cable run from that receiver to each household. (The Pinecrest neighborhood had a community receiver for its residents.) In the ‘50s, several companies sprang up to provide this service, and voila, the cable TV industry was born.

In 1957 Dallas-based Sammons Communications was granted the right to provide cable service for CV above Foothill. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s they expanded to include Montrose and the Glendale portion of CV.

Into this new industry stepped recent CV High grad Steve Goldsworthy. In 1978 he got a job as an installer at the startup company ONTV. ONTV used a UHF airwave frequency (channel 52), which they scrambled then unscrambled for their subscribers. Their hook was that they carried premium movies plus Dodger and Lakers games. While working at ONTV, Steve was living just below Der Wienerschnitzel, and he noticed that neither he nor his neighbors had access to cable TV.

After investigating he found that Sammons had left unincorporated La Crescenta below Foothill un-cabled. In far-off Dallas, they had estimated the house count there at 500, not worth their time. Steve guessed the number was much higher, so he took a pad of paper and went for a very long walk. After walking the entire area, his house count was a whopping 3,156. He knew a viable cable TV business could work and he began planning.

In the meantime, Steve met a cute young girl at ONTV named Robin (yes, that’s Robin Goldsworthy, editor and publisher of this paper), married her and immediately started a family. So it’s 1981, and 21-year-old Steve has a new wife and child, and a stable job. What’s the smart thing to do? Why, quit your job, take out massive loans and start your own cable TV business, of course!

Steve approached new County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who liked the idea of a locally based cable company. Steve, despite his young age, was granted the cable franchise for Unincorporated CV below Foothill, and Crescenta Valley Cable was born. Steve’s dad and a few other CV businessmen loaned him the start-up money. Imagine granting a 21-year-old kid a major utility franchise, or loaning him tens of thousands of dollars unsecured!

Working out of a small office on Foothill just west of Rosemont, Steve dusted off his junior high drafting skills and began to lay out his system on paper. He taught himself how to climb utility poles and, along with a few locals, began stringing cable, while Robin worked the office. It took him years to wire the entire area, undergrounding wires where possible. Throughout the ‘80s Crescenta Valley Cable grew their business. Steve paid off his loans, bought a house, and raised a family.

In ’87, the last bit of un-cabled La Cañada was granted to the larger Sammons over CV Cable. Following that setback, Steve happened to catch an article in a trade paper. Pacific Bell had been granted permission to provide an alternative cable TV service via their new fiber-optic cables. The test area they chose nationwide? La Crescenta! CV Cable would have to compete with massive PacBell. At the same time Steve’s dad (and business partner) died. It was time to get out.

In 1989 he sold CV Cable. The Crescenta Valley had taken a chance on an ambitious 21-year-old kid, and it had paid off – both for Steve and for the community. For a brief time we had had cable TV service that was truly local.

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1 Response for “Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler”

  1. chuck weiss says:

    What an amazing story! I had no idea of our community’s early cable TV history and how Robin and Steve were a part of it. I do remember as a kid when our neighbor first got ONTV and how “magical” it was to see images without the snowy picture we were all accustomed to.

    Thank you for doing this research Mike, this article was truly fun to read.

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