Tag Archives: UConn

January 9, 1979 – Satcom I – Transponder 7 Goes Live with Rutgers – UConn Basketball

Storrs, Connecticut – We lit up our own transponder for the first time thirty-three years ago today. The event was a  Rutgers at UConn basketball game that we delivered to all active Connecticut cable systems and several large systems around the country including Tulsa, Oklahoma and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Little did we know how this rivalry would blossom when both teams became charter members of the Big East Conference just a year later.

Televising the game was a thrill for everyone at the E. S. P. Network as we were still known, but the production had been in doubt since our Christmas week meeting in Chicago. Getty still hadn’t decided whether or not to invest; KS Sweet and Associates were straining to advance us only enough money to keep the doos open  – all the while hoping that Getty would come on board and repay their advances which by now had passed $200,000; and we had no money to pay for the production truck and crew heading for Storrs to televise the game.

With anxiety levels rapidly rising, time running out, and the crew chief standing next to his padlocked production van until he had a certified check in hand, Scott called from Plainville to say he was on his way to Storrs with the necessary check. He had miraculously worked some magic with a local banker and managed an “instantly-funded” short-term loan pending additional funds from KS Sweet or a Getty investment. Clearly, that Branch Manager was an early ESPN fan.

Despite our Christmas week disappointment, we had “stayed-the-course” and maintained daily contact with cable systems, RCA, the NCAA and Getty. While we were waiting for Scott to arrive with the check, I returned a call from Tom Hansen at NCAA Headquarters in Shawnee Mission. I was stunned and delighted to hear him invite me to a Special Meeting of the NCAA TV Committee in Kansas City on January 25th. Things were looking up…assuming all of this news would somehow keep us funded by somebody.

What a day!!! The game went off without a hitch, we were headed back to the NCAA in two weeks, but stay tuned…you just know that we were not idly standing around for two weeks. January was just getting underway and the 24 hour sports concept really heated up as we moved forward from the UConn Fieldhouse.

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November 18, 1978 – ECAC Soccer -Demo # 2

Storrs, Connecticut – Overnight the remote truck ahd been moved form the UConn Fieldhouse to nearby Gardner Dow Field for the ECAC playoff match between UConn and Rhode Island. This proved more difficult than basketball. It was outdoors instead of indoors in a controlled environment and our camera locations were poor and no one working the game had ever televised or broadcast soccer before.

Nevertheless, we had produced and delivered a basketball game and a soccer match to the cable world in just a sixteen hour time span from two different locations on the UConn campus. While the polish and high-quality of today were lacking, we attracted enough interest at the local cable level to receive a few calls asking for more.

The cable press also made fleeting (but, to us, extremely important) note of our debut.

More importantly, the Bristol Redevelopment Authority and RCA Americom were impressed with the effort.

Enthusiasm was high, everyone involved was exhausted, but excited, and without hesitation, we roared ahead with plans to do more demo events with UConn after the first of the year.

November 17, 1978 – UConn Basketball First Event on the E. S. P. Network

Storrs, Connecticut – Here we go!!! Peter Fox put together a pregame package. Lou Palmer was ready to go with his play-by-play. Guest announcer to work with Palmer was long-time WTIC Sports Director and Connecticut radio legend, Arnold Dean. Lou and Arnold were both fixtures on the Hartford 50,000 watt powerhouse station.

Scott and Ed worked right up to game time calling cable systems and asking them to carry the exhibition basketball game between UConn and Athletes in Action so that they could see what was coming to cable TV.. We have no idea how many systems might have actually carried the event, but we did discover that many system managers watched the feed in their office. Enough managers did show the game to produce a gratifying – albeit meager – viewer response.

At halftime, Arnold interviewed both John Toner and me. While viewers might have wondered about the glowing future we predicted for the E. S. P. Network in particular, and cable TV in general, we now know that we probably understated the potential.

It was only an exhibition game for the UConn Huskies and, in truth, it wasn’t much of a game. However, unknown to them at the time, a few systems and some viewers scattered around the USA witnessed the first images of what has become the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

November 15, 1978 – Network staff doubles

Plainville, Connecticut – With the “demo events” events on the immediate horizon (just 2 days away), Lou Palmer, who carried the title of Director of Programming, and Peter Fox, our first Executive Producer, officially went on the payroll November 15. Employee # 6, Bob Ronstrom, wasn’t officially on the payroll until December 1, 1978, but he was already working with Scott and JB Doherty putting budgets and projections together.

Lou and Peter took charge of production details for our “demo weekend” and even with the very short time available, they pulled it off as you’ll see in future posts.

Ed was keeping the Bristol Redevelopment Authority up to date as well as recruiting cable systems to carry our upcoming events.

I was calling NCAA TV Committee members and by the weekend, all six of us were immersed in the UConn “demo events.”

October 16, 1978 – John Toner, UConn and “Demo events”

Storrs, Connecticut – The opening minute of my convesation with John Toner was illuminating. Following a question about my impression of the NCAA meeting, John said, “…I’ve talked to Tom (Hansen) and they like your idea. Walter (Byers) is interested, but he has his doubts about your ability to pull it off.” He went on to say we should follow Tom’s advice about mailing details to all of the TV Committee members  and then do the follow up calls. I said, “They’re already in the mail.”

Next we turned to the UConn program that we had been discussing before we ever thought of going to Shawnee Mission. I suggested that the proposed UConn schedule would be incorporated into whatever arrangement we ultimately made with the NCAA. Toner agreed and we moved on to a very pressing need for our fledgling network.

We desperately needed to show the world what we had in mind for our all sports network – in other words we needed to produce some live games from a college campus and send them to cable systems around the country. Ideally, our “demo events” would be back-to-back on the same day or on consecutive days to give both the NCAA and cable operators a brief look at the concept. We had to produce something before we could move forward.

“Will you allow us to originate a couple of games before the end of the year?” I asked.

“What did you have in mind?”

“We’d like to combine a basketball game with one other event, either on the same day or on consecutive days.”

“Would you consider soccer?”

“Certainly” I answered, “but the season is almost over.”

“You’re right, but we will be hosting an ECAC playoff game on Saturday morning, November 18, and we do have a basketball game the night before.”

“Sounds perfect,” I said, “can we count on doing those two games?”

“Yes, I think you can. I’ll let you know tomorrow, but I don’t anticipate any problems.”

We had our “demo events” and on Friday night, November 17, 1978, the E. S. P. Network sent the UConn vs. Athletes in Action basketball game to any cable system capable of receiving a signal from RCA Satcom 1. The next morning we did indeed do the ECAC soccer playoff game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 16th – 2 minutes with NCAA TV Committee Chairman

Captain Bo Coppedge gave me 2 minutes of his time the morning of the UConn-Navy football game.  He became an ally with me and the NCAA as he was Chair of the TV Committee.

This meeting came on the heels of the best timing on September 1st when I scrambled to get our transponder confirmation in the mail – just before an article in the Wall Street Journal launched a flurry of activity with people wanting transponders, and doing anything to get one!

Ten days later, I spoke with JB Doherty for the first time.  Turns out he was the one who brought the financing together several months later.

Scott and I met with JB two days later and laid out our plan.

Then we were off to Chicago to share the excitement with my family.  They believed in me and our project and agreed to put up the seed money for the E.S.P. Network.

We were in business!