The History of ETC Fridley Communications Workshop
If we start the story at the Workshop’s incorporation in January of 1975, we miss some intense Fridley political battle stories dealing with cable television. The headline of one clipping, “Cable Petition Goes to Court” sparks some interest and another, “Nee…asks Congress to ‘get the FCC off our backs’” is intriguing, but when I found “Search Begins for Handwriting Expert,” well….I decided to sort these out in chronological order and piece together the story of cable television and public access in Fridley.
The first news article, “Cable TV for City Possible” in the Fridley SUN appeared June 16, 1971. At this time, cable television had been in existence for 22 years, serving 2,500 communities, but only 15% of the national population, partly due to FCC restrictions. And, yes, it’s a pretty impressive library we maintain. Well, except for the fact that the library itself consists of twenty-seven years of stuff rather haphazardly tossed into a cardboard box. Anyway, the article states “The Fridley City Council adopted a motion last week to accept proposals until July 19 for a local cable television license or franchise. A council decision on the matter was prompted by a letter from General Television of Minnesota, Inc. seeking a cable television franchise in Fridley. Cable television or Community Antenna Television (CATV) systems operate by picking up television signals, amplifying them and distributing them by cable to a subscriber’s television set for a fee. Most systems offer subscribers between 5 to 12 channels.”
For those of us who never quite figured out how cable television works, it was explained right off back in 1971. Of course, we have members who weren’t born yet, but for some reason, they know more now than we do. And, if you’ve ever wondered exactly what “CATV” stands for, now you know that, too.
On to the next headline, “Council to Hear Cable TV Plans” dated August 11, 1971. “The Fridley City Council during the next few weeks will conduct separate, personal interviews with all applicants for a local, cable television franchise. The closed sessions will allow applicants to explain in depth their sealed cable television proposals recently sent to the council, City Manager Gerald Davis said last week. The council has yet to state when and if it will award any applicant a franchise.” The contenders were LVO-Sun Cable from Tulsa, Oklahoma; General Television CATV from Minneapolis; and Telecommunications, Inc. from Denver, CO.
The next month, seven articles in the SUN were related to cable television. Sept. 1, “Fridley Leaders Optimistic About Cable TV Development” described the “restrained optimism of Fridley leaders.” “Cable TV” quoted from the presentation of General Television’s president, James Goetz, also a former lieutenant governor of Minnesota. He described “cable television as a uniquely local medium of communication, filling a need for community service, education, advertising, emergency alerts, etc., which would otherwise not be satisfied.” Each of the three firms making presentations estimated the investment in Fridley would range from $700,000 and up, including the offer of studio facilities within Fridley.
Three weeks later, two articles showed up with concerns about the speed with which the “coming revolution in communication” was proceeding. On September 22, “Cable TV Meeting” an article publicizing a public meeting set up with a panel that included Tom Myhra, Fridley public schools, Barbara Hughes, Anoka County Library board, and Gerald Davis, Fridley city manager to inform the public about the many implications involved with coordinating Fridley’s cable franchise with other cities.
“School Officials Caution Against CATV Haste” described the concerns of District 14 Superintendent John Hansen, and Board of Education Chairman Gordon Sangster, as well as comments from Everett Utter, the audio-visual coordinator at Fridley Senior High and Dave Helgeson, a teacher at Rice Creek Elementary school. With Fridley’s children attending school in Districts 11, 13, 14 and 16 and with a public hearing set for October 12, the consensus between all the District school officials was that there was not sufficient time to study the issue. The recommendation to the city was to delay making any decisions regarding awarding a franchise from 30 days to a year.
In the September 29 article “Cable TV, County Officials Suggest Ways to Utilize CATV,” Barb Hughes, speaking for the Anoka County Library Board expressed concerns about how the library in Blaine could hook up with a cable facility in Fridley. She said, “more time, at least two more months, would be highly desirable” in order to formulate the requests of the library. “I have no illusions that the public will get anything more out of the cable situation after a franchise is granted.” Anoka County Commissioners Michael O’Bannon, Fridley and Spring Lake Park; Al Kordiak, Columbia Heights; Edward Fields, Anoka; and Robert Burman, Third District, made comments. They shared the feeling that the Fridley City Council was rushing by already drawing up an ordinance to allow cable franchises to come into the city.
Not only did the ordinance pass, but on December 6, Councilman Bob Kelshaw made a motion, seconded by Councilman Frank Liebl, and unanimously approved by the Fridley City Council to award a 15-year cable television franchise to General Television Inc.
On December 24, Bill Nee, former mayor of Fridley and seven community activists, filed a petition to obtain a referendum vote on the recently adopted CATV ordinance and the granting of the franchise. Nee, according to the Fridley SUN article on December 15, “expressed concern that there has been little community input into the CATV decision-making and that the ordinance lacks provision for affirmative community participation in programming decisions.” According to the city charter, the law requires that a committee of at least five sponsor any petition for a referendum. But this is just the beginning; next, they had to obtain a number of signatures equal to 15% of the registered voters in the city – in this case, 1,750. They also had to have all the signatures by January 5, 1972, the day before the ordnance was to go into effect.
So this is how cable television was introduced to Fridley residents – in less than six months, the idea of cable tv was brought to the council, presented to the public, schools and county library officials. Public hearings were held, the city cable ordinance was written and adopted and a 15-year franchise was awarded to General Television. And, lastly, a petition for a referendum was filed challenging the ordinance.
Original reporters for the Fridley SUN articles include Dave Hull and Nancy Wrubel.