Tulsa Cable

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cablecostgraph

Tulsa analog cable charge per month, 1975-2014

(1/29/2016 note: This price analysis considered only analog cable, which became history 8/2015. That was the only way to meaningfully compare prices over the years since 1975. More recent features as HD, DVR service, extra tiers of channels, phone service, security, etc. add considerably to the cable bill.)

2/1975 – $  5.95/mo
3/1986 – $10.60/mo
4/1995 – $21.00/mo
3/2008 – $44.00/mo
9/2014 – $68.00/mo

The first four data points I gleaned from published articles. The fifth I took from my current bill:

$68/mo = $71/mo for “TV Starter”, “Expanded Service”, and “Advanced TV Service” minus $3/mo to remove “Advanced TV”.

(FYI: The $68 does not include TV fees, taxes and surcharges of $6.33/mo over and above. Advanced TV is required for HD, and required for DVR service, which costs $12/mo more plus a cable box/DVR at $8.50/mo. Advanced TV also adds the Music Choice channels.)

From 1975 to 2014, that’s an increase of over 1000% (not counting inflation).


It’s hard to compare the years apples-to-apples, even when considering only analog service as I do here.

In 1975, the service was in its infancy. There were 24 channels, a number of which were static text displays.

In 1986, Tulsa Cable offered only “basic” service, channels 2-37, less at least 4 pay channels. But the basic channels were, as a group, much higher quality than 1975.

The 1995, 2008 and 2014 figures are for “extended basic” analog cable, roughly channels 2-63, less the pay channels.


Let’s consider only 1995-2014, years in which the meaning of  “extended basic” remains roughly the same, so that we CAN compare apples-to-apples. You see a 224% increase over that period. That’s a whole lot.

What are some of the mitigating factors from the cable company’s point of view?

Inflation is the obvious one. Using a CPI calculator for 1995-2014, I get a 56% increase over the period. That is, $21 in 1995 is equivalent to $32.77 in 2014. From $32.77 to $68 is a 108% increase over those 20 years, inflation-adjusted.

Other factors would include increasing programming costs, carriage disputes, system upgrades, e.g., digital, HD, fiber optics.

But 108% increase, inflation-adjusted? Wow. That’s an average of almost 4% per year increase on top of inflation. And it is expected to continue. (FCC: Basic Cable Prices Increased At Four Times Rate Of Inflation, Consumerist, 5/19/2014)


We as customers care mainly about the number on that monthly bill.

Seeing it almost double every decade (and that’s not even considering bundled phone, internet, and security) will eventually bring out the cord-cutter in everyone.


The value of cable/satellite service is relative to the free broadcasting available to you in any given year.

In 1975, that consisted of 4 analog channels. In 2014, the number of subchannels over the air approaches 30 (many of them HD), not even including all the full-time religious and shopping channels.

I found that we spend well over 90% of our viewing time on the major networks, subchannels (such as MeTV), and pay streaming services Netflix and Amazon.


Is it worth paying a minimum of $68/mo (analog-only, which very few customers do) for those channels that cable offers above and beyond broadcast TV?

  • Are you addicted to channel surfing?
  • Can you handle a less user-friendly system than the more integrated cable/satellite solutions?
  • Do you have the wherewithal to put up an antenna and hook up a Tivo or other DVR system?
  • Can you stand not participating in day-after water cooler conversations about “Breaking Bad”?
  • Do you have the time and energy to change over to broadcast/streaming?
  • If not, do you have the money to spare?

(Later note: we found that by answering the third question “yes”, the TiVo Roamio mitigated the first two questions.)

Only you can answer these questions. They’re not easy for most people. But if the curve continues to bend upwards, as is likely, there will be increasing economic pressure to seriously consider them.

I’m reminded again of a line from the 60s movie I mentioned previously, “Let’s Kill Uncle“:

(Uncle to nephew) “You’re a charming child, Barnaby, but five million dollars charming, you are not!”

What the ruckus was about
(Click to enlarge)

Cable TV was a little too saucy for some Tulsans in the 80s:

Tulsans Attack Cable Channel (Oklahoman, August 8, 1986)

Battle Brewing in Tulsa Over Cable Television Programming (Oklahoman, January 11, 1987)

Cable TV Obscenity Case Begins (Oklahoman, February 24, 1987)

“The Green Country Federation for Decency claims Tulsa Cable has violated Oklahoma’s obscenity laws with a movie transmitted on the Playboy Channel. Playboy is one of Tulsa Cable’s ‘premium services’ that, for a monthly fee, Tulsa subscribers can have added to their cable service.

“Tulsans for Basic Rights, the decency federation’s adversary, argues that residents should be allowed to watch whatever they want in their homes. When the decency federation last summer tried unsuccessfully to organize a Tulsa Cable boycott, Tulsans for Basic Rights countered with its own petition drive, voicing support for individuals’ freedom of choice.

“The decency federation claims its members are getting the Playboy Channel programs, whether they want them or not.”


A co-worker of mine circa 1980 got Escapade for free. But he said it didn’t violate his moral principles to tune in, since he wasn’t paying for it.

It’s possible his channel filter failed; I heard of people who boiled theirs, then replaced it in the circuit to get free premium channels.

Federation members could have asked Tulsa Cable for replacement filters, instead of subjecting themselves to so much titillation.

(11/19/2015: This post has been revised to include newspaper clippings and new verbiage.)

The short answer to the question is found in this 1977 Tulsa Tribune clipping:

From the November 25, 1977 edition of (courtesy of Nick Abrahamson, Tulsa Library Research Center)

From the Tulsa Tribune, 11/25/1977, courtesy of Nick Abrahamson, Tulsa Library Research Center (RCAskUs) (Click to enlarge)

Thus, “Q” was Tulsa Cable Television’s 1977 term for their premium subscription channel (or channels).

But what exactly was its content?


David Bagsby said:

“…and then there was this thing with channel 5 (same 10 movies for infinity) and Q (the saucy channel)

The channel 5 David mentions was likely Tulsa Cable’s early Movie Channel, a 24-hour presentation of “classic” movies (pre-1969) via an automated tape cassette system. It offered 14 different movies per week. For more detail, read the Feb 1975 article “Tulsa Cable: The Making Of A Super System” (PDF format) from previous Cord-Cutting Blog post, 1975 article on Tulsa Cable in national mag.

Also according to that article: “Tulsa Cable began operations on January 18, 1974.”


I found this 2008-9 thread on the TulsaNow forum:

A question for “old skool” people about cable tv..

mrburns918 said:

The Delman Theatre in 1950, courtesy of the Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa

The Delman Theatre in 1950, courtesy of the Beryl Ford Collection.

“My question is… ‘Was HBO ever called the “Q” channel?‘ It seems like I remember it being called that. I also remember the channel showing a lot of foreign films, including a short they always played about a pigeon dropping his load on people. I also remember being traumatized by the movie that was a rip off of ‘The Exorcist’ called ‘Beyond the Door’ Anyone else remember the type of shows on “Q”? If that was what the channel was called.”

Nick@RCAskUs via email:

“A June 1, 1975 Tulsa World had an advertisement for ‘Beyond the Door’ showing at a theater at 15th and Lewis.”

(This would have been the Delman Theatre.)

So Nick’s research establishes the date of mrburns918’s recollections as no earlier than later 1975.

The recency of “Beyond the Door” from a mid-to late-70s perspective corroborates David Bagsby’s memory that the automated Movie Channel and “Q” were two distinct entities, since the former showed only older movies.


The November 25, 1977 article at the top of this post stated that there were 25.000 subscribers at that time, 8,000 of whom also subscribed to “‘pay cable’ or ‘Q'”.

This February 1979 Tulsa Tribune article quoted TCT President Mark Savage in that year as saying that back in November 1977, there were 23,000 cable subscribers, and 7.000 of them were “Home Box Office subscribers”:

2/22/1979 Tulsa Tribune

From the Tulsa Tribune, 2/22/1979, courtesy of Nick Abrahamson, Tulsa Library Research Center (RCAskUs) (Click to enlarge)

The subscriber numbers quoted for November 1977 in the two separate articles are close. This suggests that Mr. Savage was using the then-currently available “HBO” product name in 1979 to retroactively describe what had been called “Q” in the 1977 article.

Stacy Richardson (former Tulsa radio newsman) on TTM@Facebook said of Q: “It was a movie channel — $10/month, I believe — which, within a short time, was replaced in the cable-box channel lineup by HBO.”

I asked: “I wonder if it was a locally put together venture?”

Stacy replied: “I’m reasoning it was locally originated, because the only national source would have been the embryonic HBO. And I am not sure HBO was even being distributed nationally when Q started.”

I’m not sure either. According to Wikipedia’s HBO article, HBO didn’t begin to be available nationally until late 1975 at the very earliest. I believe the year for Tulsa is more likely to be 1978, since the 11/25/1977 article is still talking about Q. (Unless “Q”, after all, was a term meant to refer to more than one pay channel.)

At any rate, Q was not mentioned in the 2/1975 article, was already well-established as of late 1977, and had apparently been replaced by HBO by 2/1979.


Later in the 2008-9 TulsaNow thread, “patric” said of the Tulsa Cable channel changer:

“It was the size of an encyclopedia with a long brown wire that tangled and frayed easily, and some of the channels were letters (like “Q”) instead of numbers. HBO was A, Cinemax was B, Escapade C, etc.”

(Above: early version of the Tulsa Cable changer with letters and numbers.)

Could “Q” have referred to the Q button on this remote?

David Bagsby answered on TTM@Facebook: “Q was what Escapade became I think… it was not the location on the changer box.”

However, Escapade started up in 1980 (“Cablevision’s Brash Maverick“, NY Times, 1981), and Q had apparently been superseded by HBO before this.

The first I remember of Escapade (later, The Playboy Channel) was at channel 16 on a later changer, which is at the same location as the C button on the earlier one.

The Q button would become channel 30 in the next issued version of the remote, the more familiar Jerrold Starcom II Cable TV Converter.

So the answer to this question is again “we don’t know”, but probably not.


Hazarding a pure guess, could “Q” have derived from the word “quality”, as in “quality programming”?

More speculation: Or could “Q” have been a marketing name, created as a sound-alike to QUBE?

QUBE was an experiment in interactive TV that launched in Columbus, Ohio on December 1, 1977. Later on, it was made available in several major cities including Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. QUBE was much written about at the time as the future of TV, but was gone by 1984.

Stacy Richardson commented on TTM@Facebook: “QUBE was a Warner Cable service. But Warner never owned the cable system in Tulsa. ‘QUBE’ and Tulsa Cable’s ‘Q’ were two entirely different things.”

Did Tulsa Cable ever have any ambitions in that direction?


 The True Q channel: All Q, all the time.

Or maybe this is the True Q channel: All Q, all the time — for all eternity


(PS, the lead actor of “Beyond the Door”, Richard Johnson, was considered for the role of 007 before Sean Connery was tapped. Watch the whole movie on YouTube. That’s how far media has come since the 70s.)

Also see related blog post Spicy cable in the 80s.

From an ad for the Akai VTS-150 in the Feb 1975 issue of Broadcast Management/Engineering

Ron Burgundy predicts a sharp cable price increase.
(Illustration from the Feb 1975 issue of BM/E)

Here is an article in Broadcasting magazine, Dec. 1986 from the Internet Archive.

Tulsa Cable Television

Tulsa [Okla.] Cable Television has some major changes in store for its 142,000 customers in Tulsa and 11 surrounding communities early next year.

The 12-year-old United Cable system plans to increase the number of channels from 35 to 42 and install addressable converters providing all subscribers with wireless remote control and an opportunity to order movies, sports and special events on a pay-per-view basis. And, partly to offset the cost of the new channels and services, the system plans to raise basic subscription rates more than 40%.

Tulsa Cable subscribers now pay $10.60 a month for basic service. System President Mark Savage said the system would probably increase the rate by 8% or 9% after the first of the year, when municipal regulation of basic rates ends. And in March or April, he said, it would push the fee up to $14 or $15 at the same time it expands the channel capacity and introduces the wireless remote and PPV.

Savage is not certain what will go on the seven new channels. Two will be set aside for national PPV services, he said, and one may be used for a fifth pay service, possibly Showtime. (The four current pay services are HBO, Cinemax, The Playboy Channel and Disney) The remaining channels will be filled with basic services, he said. One possibility: Carl Icahn’s The Travel Channel.

To help the basic rate increases go down a bit easier. Savage said, the system will also be “backing off” its pay rates. Instead of charging $11.95 a month for each, he said, the system may charge as little as $9.95. That means the subscriber who is paying nearly $23 for basic service and one pay channel today, may pay no more than $24 or $25 after the basic fees go up and the pay fees go down.

Like other cable operators. Savage said that Tulsa Cable has seen the pay cable market go soft. But, because it never relied heavily on multipay revenues, it has not suffered as much as some that did. Tulsa Cable’s pay-to-basic ratio today stands at nearly 80%.

Tulsa Cable does not plan to reshuffle its channel lineup “for the time being,” Savage said. The three network affiliates, one public station and one independent will remain on the same channels they use for broadcasting. Those stations are widely identified with their broadcast signals, he said, and “ghosting,” which has caused some cable operators to move broadcast signals, hasn’t been a problem.

The system doesn’t carry all broadcast signals in the market, taking advantage of the freedom it obtained when a federal court declared the FCC’s must-carry rules unconstitutional. Savage said KGCT-TV, a “very run-of-the-mill” independent, was dropped six months ago in a programing shuffle precipitated to make room for The Discovery Channel, of which United is a part owner, and C-SPAN II, which features the proceedings of the U.S. Senate. “They didn’t have any ratings,” Savage said by way of justifying the dropping of KGCT-TV. “They probably still don’t.”

With 57% penetration, Tulsa Cable is right at the industry average. Savage is dubious that the cable industry’s current effort to boost penetration — acquiring and promoting an exclusive package of National Football League games— will succeed. “There are a lot of sports out there now,” he said, citing the broadcasting, cable services and Tulsa Cable’s own sports services, which produce 52 big-time college sports events a year. “I don’t know if [the NFL] is going to produce lift. ” But, he added, “it certainly can’t be a negative.”

hurst

Today, Hurst Swiggart (correct spelling) works for the City of Tulsa.

From the Feb 1975 issue of Broadcast Management/Engineering:

Tulsa Cable: The Making Of A Super System

I edited the PDF file of this issue down to the 4 pages of the article.

Check out the screenshots of early cable graphics; they look like Atari 400 menus.

A lot of guys probably would have ordered cable if they knew that “a Tulsa Cable PR girl – attractive, uniformed and specially trained, calls upon the subscriber to see ‘how things are going.'” 1975 was a different world.

Pricing was $5.95/mo, plus $15 deposit on the channel converter box.

See photos of Hurst Swiggart (above) and Leon Rollerson among others.

There is a content rundown of the 24 channels offered.

For the City Government Channel 31, there was a studio at the downtown Tulsa City-County Library headed by Tom Ledbetter (“Shaggy Dog” on the 1960s “Mr. Zing and Tuffy” show). Tom passed away on Sept 10 of this year.

Thanks to Kenny Bolen for using the term “must-carry” on TTM@Facebook.