One wonders, thinking back to the day in 1986 when Roger Brown showed up to apply for work at CableVision Magazine's Denver office, whether he had even the slightest inkling of what he was getting into.
If he did, it was far from obvious. After all, he was volunteering to take the tech beat at a publication covering an industry he knew practically nothing about. Asked if he had any background in tech of any kind, forget about whether it was in the cable industry, he simply replied, "Nope." Why, then, was he there? "Need a job."
Roger never was much of a BS artist. Was he passionate about the subject? Not particularly, at least, not then. But he knew he could write about anything and was glad to have a chance to learn about new things.
There was something about the utterly relaxed, if desperate job-seeker that made him a kindred spirit. It wasn't just that he, like everyone of us who had "chosen" cable as our journalistic focus, knew that if you wanted to make a living as a reporter in Denver, you didn't have much choice but to be interested in this hot new industry. It was that he was the kind of person who, having said he could do something, would do it, come hell or high water.
Plus there was that twinkle in his eye that said he'd fit right in with a fun-loving crew who didn't mind being worked to death as long as they could have a good time when opportunities arose, as they so often did in cable's Wild West days.
Fred Dawson (left); former colleague Greg Packer of CableFile Research; and Roger Brown enjoy some culinary delights at a cable confab.
But, if Roger was clueless, he wasn't alone. Who knew what was about to befall those of us who had begun to dabble in the tech side of cable? Most of us thought fiber optic wires were hollow tubes with mirrored walls that allowed light to move in some kind of magically focused way a long distance. But we all learned otherwise, and no one learned better than Roger.
Then came the explosion. The relatively insignificant use of fiber optics in FM mode for tying together remote headends was suddenly superseded by the intensity-modulated AM fiber application that transformed the cable network into today's two-way HFC plant. A group of Boston area techies desiring to work from home while accessing data files at Digital Equipment Corp. talked their cable operator into letting them play with some unused spectrum to send Ethernet signals back and forth, and the next thing we knew, the cable modem was a commercial reality.
What incredible horizons we all gazed on so unknowingly back in 1986. And no one charged more confidently into the unknown than Roger. When word came he had raised his hand to take the job of editor at CED magazine a mere two years later, all you could say was, "Wow."
Before Roger, CED was a collection of contributed articles edited by people with the dimmest understanding of what they were reading and totally unsuited to contribute any of their own writing. Roger knew neither he nor other journalists with no engineering training could match the technical sophistication of the expert contributors to CED. But he also knew there was a journalistic role to be played for a cable tech publication that would put things in perspective, let people see all sides of complex issues, spot new trends where strategic opportunity and technology were intersecting and, yes, keep the partisan cheerleaders for one tech solution over another honest by letting the world know when their ideas didn't pan out as planned.
Acting on this understanding of what CED needed to be took guts, not only to take on the challenge of writing knowledgeably for engineers, but also to dare to try to persuade the magazine's owners that they would be better off paying journalists for some of the writing that went into the magazine. Roger said he would fight to get an editorial budget, and he did, ultimately winning the battle, much to the amazement and relief of at least one writer who became a regular contributor to CED through much of the '90s.
Roger made his presence felt as a writer and editor, to be sure. But, more importantly, he was a source of warmth and humor to all who knew him. He was without guile. He exuded integrity. Nobody in the circle of cable industry engineers, vendors, journalists and publishing personnel who make the Denver region their home was better known or loved.
And nobody ever sailed forth into unfathomable waters with more confidence in his ability to navigate than Roger Brown. Some part of him must have known what he was getting into that day.
|—Fred Dawson, presently the Editor & Publisher of ScreenPlays, is a well-respected journalist who has covered the broadband industry for more than 20 years. The industry also owes Fred a tremendous debt of gratitude—he is also credited with hiring Roger Brown, and introducing Roger to the cable industry.|