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Cable has long history in Rochester

Many of Southeastern Minnesota residents born in the past 40 years have been exposed to endless channels of television, giving little thought what it was like before cable TV, as we know it today.

The terms "rabbit ears" and "antenna rotor" are simply a piece of TV viewing history.

Today in Rochester and much of the central United States we're served by Charter Communications. But it's been quite a ride for over a half century with 10 cable owners making up the history.

Seems like only yesterday when a middle-aged businessman named Frank Thompson went before the Rochester City Council and requested they grant him a franchise for Rochester Video, called Able Cable. It was early 1958. Locally we could watch television on channels 10 (Rochester) and 6 (Austin) with little rabbit ears. What was this crazy idea anyway? Then Mayor Alex Smetka made this comment after the franchise was approved, "I don't understand why anyone would want to build a cable system, but I guess everyone has the right to go broke." I remember the stories in print and via radio and TV based on the fact it was such uncharted ground at the time. Many of us didn't understand how cable TV would work.

In June 1958 construction began with a 400-foot tower built in Haverhill Township just east of where Century High School stands. The first customer was signed in September. For $5 per month viewers were offered five TV channels and a few FM stations. At that time very few folks had FM radios.


Able Cable was slowly becoming a "household" word. In 1965 a rebuild took place and 12 channels were available. Local programming could begin. I vividly recall the Cable TV news each evening at 6:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. featuring newsman Bob Buck, Sherrie Dostal with the weather, and young Dick Carpenter on sports.

I felt they were doing well. But that phase ended soon. Then, a man named Chuck Hazama got busy with the Rochester YMCA. The energized director of the"Y" was soon on Channel 10 TV at noon with Virginia Firnschild doing exercises that fatigued me as I watched. Gradually this got on to Able Cable. Jane Belau started a weekly show interviewing local, state and national people. This program still runs today on Cable Access 10, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings at 7 for nearly 40 years. By the way, Hazama became Rochester's mayor from 1979 until 1995 and still stays connected to our city, especially during Rochesterfest week.

Another local radio voice was seen and heard many times on the cable TV. Earlier years on KROC radio and KWEB we knew her as Mary Miller. On her cable TV news she was known as Mary Bee. When Richard Nixon came to Rochester in 1970 during the Presidential election campaign Mary Bee and I did a running commentary for several hours. We were situated at the northeast corner of the Mayo Civic Auditorium outside on the sidewalk. At that point the owner was Teleprompter. It was a sunny but cold late October day.

Om 1976 HBO (Home Box Office) was added as the first satellite service. Two years later Stewartville was added to the system, and in 1983 the communities of Eyota, Byron, Kasson and Zumbrota were added. In 1984 the Rochester system was again rebuilt and several new channels were added. Satellite channels were being added at a rapid pace. Fiber optic cable and digital programming are now upgraded to all systems. A two-way cable now allows all systems to add the Internet and telephone.

I was so proud of the new TV antenna on the roof of our first home complete with Antenna Rotor in the living room. Wow, we can get five channels from the Twin Cities and four from the south. All was beautiful until high winds put that antenna into a "pretzel" I called for cable installation the next day and so did many more.

Thanks to Tom Suffrins for sharing some statistics here. He was at the Cable engineering for nearly a half century.

Ten owners through the years were:

• 1958: Able Cable (Rochester Video)


• 1964: American Cable Television

• 1966: H and B American

• 1970: Teleprompter

• 1982: Group W Westinghouse

• 1986: Marcus Communications

• 1988: Westmarc

• 1990: TCI

• 1999: Bresnan Communications


• 2000: Charter Communications

Next week: The story behind Marigold Days in Mantorville.

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