Television's early days in Sweetwater County
April 8, 2015
Thanks to the internet, entertainment options are plentiful.
From streaming video websites such as Netflix, Hulu and Youtube, to online offerings from AMC, NBC and HBO, the internet has helped create an all-you-can-eat buffet of options for almost anything in existence. However, that wasn’t always the case and it wasn’t too long ago when the only options for television entertainment consisted of three different channels, all of which were black and white.
The Sweetwater County Historical Museum’s oral history files include a presentation and discussion hosted by the Sweetwater Historical Society Nov. 19, 2005, with Al Carollo of Sweetwater Cable T.V. as the guest speaker.
For residents of Sweetwater County during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, television is synonymous with Green River Cable T.V. and Sweetwater Cable T.V., both of which were founded by the Carollo family. During his discussion in 2005, Carollo said he bought his first television set in 1953 for $10 from a college classmate in Fort Collins, Colo. This happened the same year his father, Al Carollo Sr., was establishing Sweetwater Cable T.V. in Wyoming.
Carollo said the first cable television systems started in the late 1940s in Pennsylvania. The popular method of broadcasting television before that involved the use of a translator station, which would use an antenna to receive the signal then utilize a radio broadcaster to distribute the signal. Cable differs in its approach by using wires from the antenna to directly connect homes. This also creates a customer for the company who can get shut off for nonpayment, something that wasn’t possible with the broadcast model. Carollo said the first cables were two pairs of telephone line with the transpositions taken out, creating a straight wire.
Cable television came to Wyoming in 1953, being established in Casper, Worland and Sheridan. Carollo said his father was in the used car business before going into television. Carollo’s father met up with other cable pioneers and, after the meeting, began asking why Green River and Rock Springs couldn’t have cable television. Carollo said his father hired an engineer named John Huff to fly a plane around the area and seek out television signals, ultimately discovering signals in Green River and Rock Springs.
The signal near Rock Springs was located above Superior, while the Green River signal was located five miles south of Green River.
Sweetwater Cable T.V. contracted with a company called General Electronics to design systems capable of delivering television signals to homes. Carollo said some political issues arose in Green River, saying the city council’s delay in giving the company a franchise halted cable’s expansion in the city for about two years. While Green River service was halted, a lot of work was being done in Rock Springs to bring cable television to its residents. Carollo said they had 10 miles of power line to build, including one up White Mountain.
“So here we are out setting 30-foot poles by hand, digging the holes by hand, everything was done by hand,” Carollo told the group. “So we got that all done and I remember setting those poles, those towers out here.”
The 100-foot poles required a 10-foot hole, two-and-a-half feet in diameter, which was dug by hand while a crane was brought in to set the poles. All that work yielded a somewhat underwhelming result.
“So here we are, we’ve got a 400-foot tower with this line running into Green River, or into Rock Springs, and then this tower with two separate systems. And what did we get? Three channels, Salt Lake networks. They were on the air from 4 p.m. to approximately 10 p.m. They had a little late news; it was all in black and white – no educational TV – nothing.”
Early on, the company had to deal with interference called co-channel skip, which meant two competing channel signals coming from two different areas would cause the channel to become unwatchable, resulting in what Carollo said were a bunch of squiggly lines on the screen. To remedy this, Carollo said the company decided to build microwave towers from Medicine Butte, sending great signal they were receiving in Evanston. While constructing another 10-mile power line to the microwave in Evanston, winter hit, causing the group to use a generator to power the microwave until the spring.
“Generator didn’t work all the time. Generator didn’t work, we didn’t have any TV, so we ended up living over there, camping there, trying to keep this crazy generator running until next spring when we could go over there and dig some more poles by hand,” Carollo said.
After the microwave was completed, the company started receiving calls from other communities in southwestern Wyoming asking for microwave service, resulting in Sweetwater Cable T.V. building a number of other microwaves to spread television signals throughout Lincoln, Sublette, and Uinta counties. Point of Rocks, being a smaller community, received translators to serve the communities. One notable failure Carollo mentioned was an attempt to provide television to Farson. Carollo said they decided they could hook a translator system on top of their 400-foot tower and shoot the signal to the small community. That didn’t work however; due to a hill they were unable to boost the signal above and ultimately resulting in the small town doing something else to receive television signals.
“I don’t know what they finally did, but we tried and it was a complete failure,” he said.
By 1976, Sweetwater Cable TV’s system had been rebuilt twice and with HBO having started its broadcast four years prior, Carollo said the company decided to pick them up through their satellite. Carollo said the process involved applying for a federal license and building a 10-meter dish, costing $100,000 at their building.
“Now, I remember that because I said when I went to the city council, ‘I want to put a 10-meter dish behind my office,’” he said. “I was hoping they didn’t know how big 10 meters was … it’s a monster, 30 some feet, 33 feet in diameter, so it’s huge.”
The dish allowed the company to pick up HBO, becoming the second in Wyoming to offer the service and 58th in the county. With HBO and later WTBS in the company’s offerings, popularity and demand for those two channels skyrocketed, causing the company to distribute the two on microwave and apply for more federal licenses because the 10-meter dishes needed to pick up the broadcasts were hard to build.
For many residents, early television was a new and exciting addition to their homes. Edith Sunada, a longtime Green River resident who passed away in 2008, said during the discussion that her family never fought over the black and white TV at their house because her mother always wanted to watch football and basketball games. She said they got their first black and white TV in 1950, and said her mother would watch the games, then she would watch “The Streets of San Francisco,” Perry Mason,” “I Love Lucy” and early detective shows that were broadcast.
Dean Makie, another resident attending the presentation, said he had started watching the “Lawrence Welk Show” in college, saying when his family had the three TV channels later; his daughters would “scream and holler because they had to watch Lawrence Welk.”