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Unexpected Blast From the Past

April 11, 2015

Got a call a week or so ago from a guy, Neal, who wanted to pick my brain about a slice of Davis history that is both unique and long since past. There aren’t that many people who could really talk about this. Turns out, I’m a person with quite a lot of institutional memory and turns out I had a lot more to say about it than I thought I might. So that’s what I did today… met with this guy… IMG_6049 … and talked for hours about the ol’ Davis cable coop experiment. Turns out, Neal, who still lives in St. Paul, MN, was somebody who was instrumental in visualizing a community-based, democratic, locally-controlled model for cable service back in the “blue sky” days of cable roll outs (the late 70s and 80s). He was brought to Davis in about 1980 to address and inspire our City Council at the point at which they were (finally) considering various cable television options for our community. He must have been compelling because the City did, indeed, pursue a cooperative form of cable ownership, and thus Davis became the nation’s first urban cable coop.  Thanks to, of course, a powerfully effective local group headed by Mr. Cooperative–David Thompson–his wife Ann Evans, and numerous others. (Cable coops were a model seen in a few rural areas in the US and Canada, but never before considered in a larger, urban setting.)

Anyway, having been employee number two (of two initially), I knew a little bit about the whole experience–the launch, the challenges, the frustrations and, ultimately, the failure. And having outlasted every single employee we ever had (maybe three), and having been part of the effort to parlay the failed coop (our experiment lasted only three years) into a lasting community treasure (Davis Community Television), and having served as the founding executive director of DCTV for over twenty years, I had a few things to share.

In some ways, it turned into a very fun afternoon. When you look back on something with that kind of distance, its shape becomes quite a bit clearer. Fascinating, really. We talked far more about the significance of our anti-corporate, community-based objectives, and far less about the organization that grew out of the Davis Community Cable Cooperative. We talked about what those early efforts were about at their core–the St. Paul, Davis, Palo Alto experiments–and how things might have been different were those efforts to have been successful. Uphill battles all the way, though, trying to get a foothold in an industry dominated by profit motives (I know, what industry isn’t).

I guess what I’d really lost touch with, and with which I was glad to reconnect, was how laudable the objectives were and how proud we should feel for the effort. Neal is pulling together a website that will record some of this history so it’s not lost altogether.

After St. Paul’s effort failed to materialize, Neal went on to rabble in other ways in the ever-progressive Twin Cities and married a very liberal, long-time State Senator. I knew we’d have a lot in common when I saw his Democracy Now baseball cap and learned that he was on his way to meetings in SF with an organization that, among other things, funds Free Speech TV. I mean, really.

And again, fun…. because I hadn’t thought of any of this for a long, long time.

Here’s me having fun.. 🙂 IMG_6050

Then Neal got on a train. And I walked home, deep in thought.

3 Responses to “Unexpected Blast From the Past”

  1. Bev Says:

    I remember those details…not in that detail, of. Course…

  2. Bev Says:

    Those DAYS, I meant (having an Atria moment)

  3. Kari Says:

    I love “Atria” moment.


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