The cable guys

How two Tulsans changed the course of TV history.



In 1976, Ed Taylor, shown in his Tulsa home, made a $1 investment that resulted in millions for him and Ted Turner — as well as led to the creation of the first superstation.

Thirty-three years ago, Ed Taylor of Tulsa made possibly the best $1 investment ever. It made two men multimillionaires and changed television forever.

It was Dec. 27, 1976, that Taylor began distributing Ted Turner’s WTBS in Atlanta to cable systems via satellite. That created the first superstation. Taylor helped Turner get the station’s signal on satellite, then paid $1 for the right to sell that signal to cable systems around the country. He made millions from those sales, and Turner made millions from the advertising dollars generated by that larger audience.

Turner called it “one of the greatest $1 investments in American business history.”

A few months later, Roy Bliss of Tulsa put Chicago’s WGN on a satellite, making it the second superstation and one that endures today. And television was never the same.

Did they know the changes these decisions would make to television?

“I think the answer to that is both yes and no,” Taylor says. Cable then was generally limited to 12 channels, but “Ted and I both had the idea 24-channel television systems was where it was going and if this went well it would lead to other things.”

Turner was perhaps more aware of the potential and certainly more aggressive in expanding his businesses, although both Taylor and Bliss in Tulsa remained active as television exploded to hundreds of satellite channels, delivering all sorts of specialty and custom content.

And while many people were looking at satellite services in the early 1970s — and Time had already launched its Home Box Office on a satellite — Turner, Taylor and Bliss were the first to actually jump into the business of cable via satellite.

That two men from Tulsa — then touted as “Oil Capital of the World” — were involved in such history-making actions was not a coincidence. Both Taylor and Bliss were brought to Tulsa by Wayne Swearingen, a visionary oilman who was early to see a larger potential for cable television, which was largely viewed as simply a way to get television to areas too remote to pick up broadcast signals from stations that usually were in big cities.

Swearingen and Julius Livingston, who rebuilt Swearingen’s oil company, began in the 1960s gathering cable franchises from Tulsa and other cities. Their company, Tulsa Cable, bought a microwave company, United Video, to begin linking Tulsa with stations in Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas. They also combined with Gene Schneider, who had operated cable systems in Wyoming, to form United Cable, which held franchises in a number of cities.

Taylor was recruited as a consultant in the early 1970s because, while working with AT&T, he had helped with a similar project for John Malone in Denver. Bliss was hired about that same time to operate the subsidiary, United Video.

Taylor returned to Tulsa in 1972 as president of United Video.

Together, Taylor and Bliss built microwave systems through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. They delivered signals from major stations to cable systems along the way to finance the expansion.

Then, in 1976, United Video was sold to an East Coast cable operator named Larry Flynn. Bliss stayed with that company; Taylor had gone to work for Western Union to market its new satellite services — Western Union had put up the first commercial communications satellite.

It was in that role that he first associated with Turner, who was trying to get cable companies to build microwave networks to expand the reach of his Atlanta station. He approached Taylor about satellite service.

Taylor recalls that he wrote a business plan for Western Union to serve Turner and its board “turned it down twice.” Then, at a board meeting, his marketing budget and staff were cut, and “the next day … I resigned and went off and did it myself,” he says.

Turner’s version is somewhat different, according to published reports. His lawyers told him he had to find a third party to act as a “common carrier” to distribute his satellite signal, “so I called the first person I’d met in the satellite business, Western Union’s Ed Taylor.” Turner said he “asked him if he would leave Western Union and run our common carrier.” 

The arrangement was that Turner got increased advertising revenue from a larger audience through cable and Taylor got revenue from charging cable systems 10 cents per subscriber for delivering the service. Turner helped Taylor create a company, Southern Satellite Systems, as the distributor.

Turner says they both knew “this business could get very big very fast.”

It did. Southern quickly became very profitable and led both men into other businesses.

Taylor and Bliss had not talked in detail about satellite delivery, but Taylor says, “Roy was about the only guy in the country that didn’t think Ed Taylor and Ted Turner were nuts.”

Bliss, through United Video, quickly approached WGN, which he says was the strongest independent station in United Cable’s lineup. Taylor also had thought of putting up WGN, but the satellite transponder he would have used would not work at first, and by the time it did, Bliss was already in operation.

Bliss assumed the two would compete for cable markets, but “As it turned out, we both got virtually all of the small markets and shared many of the large markets,” he says.

Taylor went on to form Tempo Television, which began creating new channels. He would create a channel, then sell time on it to programmers, who sold advertising.

“That helped in the transition to a separate channel,” he says. A lot of home and garden, cooking, fishing and other special programming began this way.

That model exists to this day in most special cable channels — independent producers develop shows and market them to channel operators.

Taylor says he made one big mistake. A man named Don Hendricks proposed to start a new channel called Discovery “and I said no,” he says. Taylor later bought stock in Hendricks’ Discovery Channel, now one of the most profitable around.

He did start the first advertising-supported cable channel, which evolved into CNBC.

Taylor also started a channel with news photographs and announcers reading stories about those pictures. Turner first said “nobody was interested in 24-hour news” but after seeing the results “started Cable News Network and wiped me out,” Taylor says.

Turner stayed involved with innovation after he left active television. He was involved in putting together the first webcast, using the Internet as a communications medium.

Bliss became a major stockholder in United Video, as well as its operating head, with WGN and other channels. United Video also partnered with Sony to start the Game Show Channel and experimented with developing other channels. Its biggest success came with a Prevue Guide, which furnished program listings to cable operators.

And John Malone, who had worked with both Taylor and Bliss and also had been involved with Turner in the early days, wound up owning United Cable, United Video and Taylor’s Tempo Television, although all or part of those ventures was eventually sold to others.

In addition to his involvement with television, Taylor has been active in two major medical areas, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and arthritis.

His wife, Nancy, suffered from CFS and eventually died as a result. Taylor worked hard to find causes and cures and eventually founded the Nancy Taylor Foundation to do research on this strange and debilitating disease, as well as arthritis and juvenile arthritis. The foundation is a leader in the effort to combat CFS.

A daughter suffered from arthritis, leading Taylor to become active in that foundation and its research. The Eastern Oklahoma Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation honored Taylor with its Spirit of Commitment Award at a dinner May 18.

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Cost: $12

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Cost: Free

Where:
108 Contemporary
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Telephone: 191-889-56302

More information

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Cost: free and open to the public

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Cost: $12

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415 Couch Dr.
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View map »


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More information

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Cost: Free with admission

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Cost: Free

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View map »


Telephone: 191-889-56302

More information

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Cost: free and open to the public

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Where:
Washington Irving Memorial Park and Arboretum
13700 S Memorial Drive
Bixby, OK  74008
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Sponsor: Rescued 'n Ready Animal Foundation
Telephone: 918-260-6717
Contact Name: Sandra Sorber
Website »

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The second annual Cheer and Gears Auto Show will be Saturday, June 23 at the Charles Page High School parking lot, 500 N. Adams Road in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. All makes, models and years...

Cost: Free

Where:
Charles Page High School
500 N. Adams Road
Sand Springs, OK
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Sponsor: Charles Page High School Cheer Teams

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The Pathways Summer Carnival is free to the public. Enjoy a dunk tank, balloon animals, games, a pet fashion show, food, and so much more. Bring the whole family for a day of fun in the sun on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kirk of the Hills
4102 E 61st St
Tulsa, OK  74136
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Sponsor: Pathways Adult Learning Center
Telephone: 918-859-0060
Contact Name: Katie Groke
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Wagoner Main Street Presents... Switching Gears-Saturday June 23, 2018 9am-10pm in Downtown Wagoner Oklahoma! An entire day of family fun, food, music, and more. Events start at 9am with the Car...

Cost: FREE -$20.00

Where:
Main St
130 S Main St
Wagoner, OK  74467
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Sponsor: Wagoner Main Street
Telephone: 918-869-7318
Contact Name: Jay Stephens
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Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper features the life-size, trompe l’œil paper costumes of Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave (born 1946). Following a...

Cost: $12

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Telephone: 405-236-3100
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Remembering Our Fallen is a photographic war memorial that honors our country’s military Fallen from The War on Terror. Because 9/11 was such a defining moment, this memorial includes our...

Cost: Free

Where:
Muskogee War Memorial Park
3500 Batfish Rd
Muskogee, OK  74403
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Sponsor: Muskogee War Memorial Park
Telephone: 918-682-6294
Contact Name: Brent Trout
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Opening to the public on Thursday, Nov. 16, the 110th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, “The Art of Oklahoma” celebrates the Museum’s outstanding and...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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The work of renowned artist Christopher Curtis will be featured at Tulsa Botanic Garden’s first sculpture exhibit March 17 through August 26. Curtis works primarily in stone and he often...

Cost: FREE for Garden members; $8 ages 13+, $4 ages 3-12. Kids 2 and under free

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Drive
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson
Website »

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 ORU offers a wide variety of summer camps from basketball camp to swimming camp for all ages. For a schedule and list of options visit ORUCES.com/camps.

Cost: Prices Vary

Where:
Mabee Center
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
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Telephone: 918-495-6000
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Legion LIVE! 2018 is a day-long event filled with live music on two stages, broadcast live to troops around the world! FREE and open to the public, the event raises much-needed funds for the...

Cost: FREE

Where:
American Legion Post 1
1120 E 8th Street
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Sponsor: American Legion Post 1
Telephone: 918-809-3745
Contact Name: Kasey Rideout

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This annual FREE new home showcase is presented by the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa and sponsored by Samsung Electronics.  This year’s event will feature more than 150...

Cost: FREE

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Samsung
Contact Name: Nathan Carter

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Crossing borders are central Consuelo J. Underwood’s artistic practice. In this exhibition inspired by land, politics, and spirit, Underwood speaks to her individual understanding of borders...

Cost: Free

Where:
108 Contemporary
108 E Mathew B. Brady St, Tulsa, OK 74103
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Telephone: 191-889-56302

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Break the rules of conventional museums at the third annual Please Touch the Art exhibit. Mark your calendars for the opening reception Friday, June 1 from 5 - 9 p.m., in conjunction with the Tulsa...

Cost: free and open to the public

Where:
McKeon Center for Creativity
910 S. Boston Ave.
TCC Metro Campus
Tulsa, OK  74119
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Sponsor: McKeon Center for Creativity
Telephone: 918-595-7339
Contact Name: Cindy Barton

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The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS) hosts a Swing dance and lessons  The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS) is the only UNESCO recognized dance organization in Oklahoma.  We are a 501c3...

Cost: $7

Where:
Community Center - South Minister Presby Church
3500 So Peoria
1/2 west of Peoria, on 35pl behind the church
Tulsa, OK  74102
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Sponsor: The Ok Swing Syndicate
Telephone: 918-450-691
Contact Name: Rita Robbins
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Still I Rise is a dramatic dance-theatre presentation incorporating all elements of Bharatanatyam, some elements of yoga, theatre, spoken word and music. The performance exemplifies the example of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E 2nd St
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: South Asian Performing Arts Foundation
Telephone: (918) 625 6037
Contact Name: Mohan Kelkar
Website »

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Opera in the Ozarks, the nationally acclaimed summer music festival and training program for top emerging opera professionals, celebrates its 2018 Season from June 22 to July 20 with nearly...

Cost: $25

Where:
Inspiration Point
16311 Hwy. 62 West
Eureka Springs, AR  72632
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Shades of White is a play written by Ilan Kozlowski and directed by Rebecca Ungerman.  For mature audiences.

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
John H. Williams Theatre, Tulsa PAC
110 E. Second St.
Tulsa, OK  74103
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TULtalk


“Sovereignty” comes to Tulsa for a reading

Monday, June 18, see a staged reading of the buzzed-about new play by Oklahoma native Mary Kathryn Nagle.

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QUIZ: Which Tulsa Mural Fits Your Personality?

Tulsa has a plethora of colorful, vibrant murals! But which one should be the backdrop for your next selfie?

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Video: BA Ninja Warrior

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The Fabulous Mid-Life Crisis

The popular cover band is scheduled to bring the good times (and huge crowds) to Summer's Fifth Night in Utica Square on June 7.

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When you’re 4, everything is super

From the editor: Here's to a super-duper June, Tulsa!

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