(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:
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:
“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”:
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?
(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.