Old airwaves

On the day NBC sells out to Comcast, the daughter of a self-styled TV visionary muses on broadcasting's Nordstrom effect.
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On the day NBC sells out to Comcast, the daughter of a self-styled TV visionary muses on broadcasting's Nordstrom effect.

Whenever I read big news in the TV industry, I think back to the wild predictions made by my father in the 1960s.

He'd gone from radio ("The Night Owl Show") to local TV ("From the Esso Desk...") to management of local TV (a station wagon emblazoned with the NBC peacock) and finally to the nascent cable business, which his fellow New Englanders regarded as just to the left of Edsel manufacturing.

The early days were not exactly glamorous. I have fond memories of driving around with him while he craned his neck, looking up at power poles and cables. When he spotted someone illegally tapped into his cable service, he'd knock on their door and tell them to Get up that pole and disconnect it before I sue your ass. It worked quite well.

He could spin quite a vision of the future:

Someday, we'll all have hundreds of channels to pick from. (This was in the days when NBC, ABC and CBS were it.)

Television sets will get really, really thin, like wallpaper. (Almost there, Dad.)

Every town will have its business on its own little channel. (We call it "local access.")

I'm not sure what he would have made of the news today that Comcast is buying up, among other things, his old employer NBC. That's such a leap from the early days of the television business that even he might need a minute to catch up.

There's not a perfect analogy, but it's a little like a phone company providing your conversations. All Comcast is NOT doing these days is leading me to the recliner and handing me the remote.

Naturally, this big-business buying up big-media makes me nervous. But one thing does hearten me.

First, despite the too-high rates and the Byzantine channel structure, I have to say that I always get very good customer service from Comcast. I periodically call to whine about the cost of this or that, or question some pay-per-view listing. (Really, I'm sure I only saw Mall Cop once.) Each time I've gotten an articulate person who figures out how to solve the problem. No small feat.

So, maybe there will be a Nordstrom effect — other media companies, wireless providers, utilities and the like will have to adopt the customer-service model because the big kid on the block is doing it. We'll see.

Look what you started, Dad.


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