With the rise of communications behemoths, it is easy to forget that the acronym CATV stands for Community Antenna Television and that the roots of CATV can still be seen in many of the systems that still exist in rural America. The 60 subscriber “cable network” that Cliff Duncan bought in 1972 was the prototypical early CATV system, as, when he purchased it, cable was strung from house to house and tree to tree, instead of using pole-lines and rights-of-way. The story of Cliff Duncan and Duncan Cable TV is one of transformation from a fledgling antenna extension service to a state-of-the-art telecommunications and media production company; one that has stayed true to its community roots.
While Duncan was considering the potential for professional baseball career, the phone rang from a local businessman who was aiming to retire and needed a buyer for his business. Knowing Duncan had recently received his college degree in electronics, the owner extended credit to Duncan to purchase his mini-conglomerate that included, the local TV repair shop, two gas pumps and the cable TV network. As Duncan describes it was a struggle for the next 10 years to pay off the debt.
This was in the era of tubes and expensive televisions, when it made sense to repair televisions. Tubes were also in the CATV amplifiers and, although Duncan doesn’t mention it explicitly, his electronics background had to be a huge asset in understanding how to evolve the system from the shoestring operation he purchased to the state-of-the-art network it has become; a system which now includes a mix of technologies from Hybrid Fiber Coax to Fiber to the Home.
[Note: in an earlier interview, filmed at the 2015 ACA Summit, he explains that the 1980s Accelerated Cost Recovery System fueled the expansion of his network beyond the initial service area reaching its 2015 subscriber count of 2,500 cable and 1,500 broadband subscribers.]
Through the decades, Duncan stayed close to his hometown roots, forgoing the opportunity to expand statewide when a nationwide competitor fell into bankruptcy. In the above interview, he reflects on the relationships with his neighbors and how his business intertwines with his family and the community. In fact, several of Duncan’s family members are now part of his 5-person cable system.
Helping the community, as well as exposing the rest of the world to its unique quality of life, led to Duncan’s creation of Vermont Television Network. As he points out, Vermont is a brand and VTTV (Vermont Television) is help spreading the word about the Green Mountain State through the more than 15 programs it produces. In addition to its availability on Duncan Cable, it is available worldwide via online channels, including Roku.
The TV repair shop and gas pumps are a memory, but, thanks to Duncan’s stewardship, the cables and content of Duncan Cable TV continue to connect his fellow Vermont neighbors to each other and the world.