The Cablevision cable TV sales reps walked through my suburban Long Island neighborhood in December of 1975, promising better reception and a new channel called HBO.
They carried these little “HBO On Air” guides with them, left behind as part of the sales pitch, a featured film on the cover, full listings inside. “The Towering Inferno” was on the cover that first month, “Young Frankenstein” the next.
These miniature books captured my imagination, along with the notion of television channels that didn’t go to bed every night, after playing the Star Spangled Banner to footage of the American Flag blowing in the wind. People younger than 40 probably don’t remember that TV wasn’t always an around-the-clock proposition. It actually ended, in the neighborhood of midnight, and then fired back up again the next morning. There was no Sig Hansen on the Bering Sea at 3 a.m., no Tony Robbins offering encouragement in the dark, nothing.
We subscribed to cable, largely at my urging, and the guides - which soon transitioned from “HBO On Air” to the broader “Cablevision” to reflect the expanded programming options and listings - kept coming. I started saving them, my Frank Costanza moment, and wound up with a pretty complete set from that first edition through 1983 or so. The dawning days of an industry. I still have them in a box.
When The Weather Channel turned 30 this week, I dug them out and took a little stroll through 1982, looking for the first sign of a channel that has been my default background option for more than 20 years. The first mention of Cablevision having added TWC showed up in October, followed the next month by a full-page ad.
Since I had my little time capsule out, I flipped through a number of the guides and found a few more programming ads from that same period (1980-82) that seemed worth sharing, promoting in their infancy channels that went on to become household names, and preeminent global brands.
An ESPN ad invited viewers to call a toll-free phone number for the night’s programming line-up, one from C-SPAN offered a free booklet called “Gavel to Gavel,” that outlined “all the key congressional terms,” so viewers could fully appreciate its “coverage of Congress in action.”
Nickelodeon used a New York Times clip to pitch a new channel for kids, blessed by the National Education Association, that entertained “without relying on violence,” and CNN promised “a world of information, analysis and opinion conventional networks simply haven’t had time to explore.” HBO was experimenting with the notion of “HBOnly” more than three decades ago, The Movie Channel was willing to “suffer through the bad movies, so you don’t have to.”
Today’s Goliaths, before they even dreamed of being Davids.
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