TVRex Interviewed by CT’s Pipeline

Rex Porter
SCTE member since 1969

Title : Director of Business Relations for MasTec’s Broadband Service Line

Broadband Background : A 40-plus-year cable industry veteran, TVRex, as Porter is known online, has been involved with the construction of more than 25 cable TV systems in the United States, according to the SCTE annals. He is a charter/senior SCTE member, an SCTE Hall of Fame inductee, member of the Loyal Order of the 704, and 1987’s Member of the Year, and continues to serve on a number of the Society’s committees. He was also CT’s Editor-in-Chief for several years.

We’ll be at the Cable Center this week. Would you like us to check in on that elevator shaft that you and your 704 pals sponsored?

Well, since I can’t be there, Pinky would like to see if the statue in his likeness has ever been erected!

How is the Loyal Order doing? There seemed to be some controversy this year about how long you needed to be in the industry before being invited to join.

The Loyal Order is doing fine–Pinky’s getting fat. As to the controversy, the members seemed to feel that 20 years is not enough history to understand the importance of a fine piece of test gear (like the 704 meter). So it was voted to induct members with 30 years or more of cable engineering.

Has anything especially surprised you in the last two or three years in the cable industry?

Yes! One is the capitulation by cable owners to allow the FCC to sell frequency spectrum. Neither the FCC nor the government owns the frequency spectrum. For more than half a century, the FCC has repeated that the broadcast spectrum belongs to the people. And all of a sudden we roll over. The other is our failure to expect the broadcasters’ future demands on cable carriage of their digital signals. There are already at least two fights breaking out between MSOs and networks. I believe we will rue the day when we meekly agreed to the present retransmission agreements.

What are your pet peeves these days?

You just saw two of them above. However, my real pet peeve is that we have such wonderful electronic means of communicating with each other. I can remember having to drive miles to find a pay phone just to get in touch with a customer or my home office. Nowadays, everyone has a cell phone and/or computer. So I find it exasperating when anyone can’t just return a message from their email or cell phone. I think that’s the height of laziness. There is no such thing as “too busy” to just type “received” or “Hi” to return a call!

What’s going on at MasTec?

Lots of important changes have happened with MasTec Broadband since Andy Healey took over as president and brought in a new group at the top. Andy has dedicated himself and his team to changing the old image of construction/contracting. I joined because it’s exciting to see MasTec modernize along with the rest of the cable industry.

How do you think competition will impact the cable industry in the next couple of years?

Well, I think competition is already impacting the cable industry. What we tend to forget is that we are the “communications” industry. Anything telephone, satellite or wireless can do in the communications industry, cable can do better. You cannot win out over competition by fighting their existence–you can only win by meeting them head on and giving better products. You must have better video, better voice, better telephone, better Internet and, most of all, you must have better customer service. An untrained CSR and/or a sloppy installer will undo all our technological advances by immediately losing our customers.

Where did the “TVRex” name come from?

As you know, I have tried to retire four or five times. And while I was retired in 1995, I received a letter from Howard Whitman asking me to sign a release for the SCTE to use my likeness for a comic strip to promote SCTE training. This comic strip was published as a special edition of the SCTE “Interval,” then issued as a quarterly SCTE newsletter. It is also in the center pages of the 1995 SCTE membership directory and yearbook. I was a training engineer who helped a technician become proficient in cable, and my name was TVRex. So many of my cable buddies started calling me “TVRex” that when the Internet came along, that became my handle forever.

Give us youngsters a quick sense of the old days: What was it like having to make your own tools and test gear?

It wasn’t so much having to make your own tools as it was having to adapt something into a cable tool. Our basic tools consisted of pipe cutters, wrenches, files and soldering irons for connecting cables. There were absolutely no standards on anything. It seemed like everything had to be soldered, and I can remember hanging from the top of a 400- or 500-foot tower and trying to heat a soldering tip in a snowstorm. I’ve cried as I tried to stay on a pole while soldering a connection in the cold.

Before the SCTE, the system owners bought everything and they would buy equipment from four or five different companies, and we would have to try to make it all work. Tube replacement for amplifiers was fun because you had to burn the tubes in and replace every one of them throughout the system. If you didn’t burn them in, new tubes had a high gain while new, and you would have to go back through the whole system and re-set the levels if you didn’t burn them in. Every year or two, you would order enough tubes for the amps and burn some in, replace the old, burn more in, replace some more until you had replaced every tube in the system.

Why can’t you retire? What’s wrong, you don’t like to golf?

Like I said, I’ve tried retirement four or five times. And I do like to golf. But golfing every day gets tiresome. Golf is for the weekend and special events. If you do it regularly, it gets to be like trying to eat all day long. Pretty quickly, you get full!

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