Ajo History Part V

Nov 1, 2019 by Bryan Blow

For those of you following my story, I did get the last extension before I had to go to military service, but this is ahead of my story. In the previous article I told you about putting the only channel available then on the cable TV system in Ajo, which was the 1st cable TV system in Arizona in 1952. After the first channel was successful, people would ask if another channel becomes available would we be able to add it as well. Sure, we said though we had no idea how we would be able to since it had never been done before. This was before satellites and even microwave.

The way we found signals was to climb mountains lugging a tube TV set, a gas power plant and antennas. I carried the 17-inch TV set, Al carried the power plant and Red carried the antennas. You would think height would be the deciding factor as to who carried what, but it wasn’t. At the cross on top of Camelback Mountain only Channel 9 would come in. Most of the channels came in on the ridge line but Channels 10 and 12 came in at a gully at the foot of the mountain. Also, we tried all kinds of antennas: They had antennas that were supposed to acquire all low band channels and ones that would acquire high band (high band in those days went from 7 to 13). We used antennas cut for the particular channel and found tying 4 together on the same channel gave the best combination. Channel 3 antenna was several times bigger than channel 13.

Once you found a channel, and had enough signal, the next step was getting it to your head end and that meant a preamp and you wanted the best preamp you could find. I told you how lower signal traveled through the air and cable easier than high channels, but the heat was a killer. Electricity has heat so we tried things like putting the preamp in a small fridge and hung it on the pole. All our amps in those days were tube and were not weatherproof. We measured the signal strength in dbs and every foot of cable used a certain amount, so the most popular cable in those days were RG11 for trunk and RG59 for going to the house. Channel 4 used about 3.5 dbs every hundred feet and channel 13 used about 6 every hundred feet. Our amplifiers put out about 35 db I believe – things get hazy after 65 years – but this way you calculated where the next amplifier went into the line.

Since our amps were not weatherproofed we had a fellow who worked in the mine that made us boxes to put them in to hang from the telephone poles. This was all done on mine company time, and since everybody wanted TV, they let him. The rolls containing the cable were very heavy and when we got to an alley people would help us roll down the alley to get TV to their house. The manager of the telephone company also wanted TV and knew we did not have any money so he would give us the messenger wired to hold the cable on between telephone. When we would get low on wire, he would condemn an area and give us the wire. We also took our time getting near where he lived so we could keep getting the wire. We had to attach the cable to the wire, and I don’t know if they made a lashing machine then or not, I don’t think so, anyway we took electric black tape and would tape the wired to the cable. Red had bought some cable from a WWII junk yard that had very heavy cable and terrific characteristics. On Channel 13 we only lost 1.6 db per hundred feet and that really helped us when the UHF Channels came on the air. But there was one catch, we could not find any connectors to fit the larger cable so Red made something like a big pencil sharper and whittled it down to fit the RG connectors.

Cable and amps cost us about a dollar a foot in those days. We had antennas on the ridge line and in the gully’s and used up a lot of land, especially since we also used a Rombrick Antenna. This was a measurement that equaled a wavelength of the signal we tried to capture and Channel 5 for instance, probably used about 50 feet of land. It was made diamond shaped and we would put a telephone pole up for each corner to hold the copper wire – this did increase the signal some on some channels but mostly helped narrow the skipping that was possible in those days. For instance when we tried to get Channel 3 from phone in certain weather conditions we would get Channel 3 from Idaho a sometimes it would be as clear as being next door.

Our amplifiers did not have regulated power supplies so any increases or drops in voltage made a difference on how much signal would go down the lines sometimes causing what we called windshield wipe, or sometimes drop to snow. We did not have automatic gain control so the temp of the weather would also give us problems. We tried to regulate mostly from our head end, up the signal when hot and drop when it cooled off. Lots of trips up and down the mountain. I want to give credit here to a man who really lived up to his word: To get the land we needed he gave us 120 acres on Camelback Mountain and all he asked for it was free TV and we shook hands on it and as we added customers and channels he never went back on his word. I think it was over 25 years before I bought it from him. His name was Tom Alley and he owned the pool hall downtown and became a county supervisor and the town courthouse is named after him. You don’t find people like that very often.

To be continued…

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