John Hood was an engineer ahead of his time. He was an innovator in the cable television business. We worked together for over a decade at Comlink Systems in Canada delivering a variety of radio systems to customers coast to coast.
Before Comlink, John was a long time employee of Jarmain Cable TV (now Rogers Cable) leading the Cable Industries success with his forward thinking and engineering developments. John took his cable knowledge and co-founded a very successful company called Comlink which was a leader in the Canadian communications industry.
When working at Jarmain Cable TV in London, Ontario, it was considered to be one of two or three world centres where the cable television industry was born and emerged into the global industry it is today. In the early days of cable television (CATV), everything was still analog. Digital television had not yet been invented. The challenges of analog were enormous and since no technologies or technical approaches existed yet, many aspect had to be created from scratch and on the fly. London was ground zero for CATV in Canada and perhaps the the world too.
The channels occupied 6 MHz each as compression of signals was not yet invented and these analog channels degraded significantly over even the shortest distances. So, great care was essential to ensure the integrity of the channels. The channel counts were very low as the capability was limited to perhaps 20 to 40 channels. Since there was no mass optical fibre networks or satellite relay systems to feed the early CATV headends, the channels all had to be acquired via broadband analog microwave radio systems. So, the channels where mostly local and some regional in nature with literally no national or international channels in those early days.
The character generator channels were crude by today’s standards and everything cost a fortune. The computerization of technology had not yet taken hold, so all the devices were highly customized and specialized.
Almost 70 years ago, Ed Jarmain erected a big receiving antenna in his backyard for the country’s first cable TV trial.
He and a neighbour strung co-axial lines around to 15 nearby homes in the south end of London, Ont. Only one of the homes owned a TV, so the partners had to lend out sets.
Thirteen of the 15 households in the free trial signed on as permanent subscribers for the sum of $150 up front and $4 a month. For that, they got three U.S. channels – Cleveland, Ohio, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Detroit, Michigan.
Today, a basic CATV bundle gets more than 60 channels so you can display vivid HDTV images on your large flat panel screens. If you can afford to buy the full bundles today, you can get hundreds of channels and affiliated services like telephone, internet, home alarm monitoring, and much more.
From CATV’s humble beginnings, people like John stretched the original 15 homes to hundreds of homes and then to thousands of homes to what it is today with about 10 million homes in Canada. They had to figure out solutions to so many issues that it is overwhelming to imagine how they even succeeded.
“To the best of my knowledge,” writes David R. Spencer, a professor with the faculty of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario, “the first commercial cable company in Canada was located right here in London, Ont., the invention of an entrepreneur named Ed Jarmain.“
Prof. Spencer says London was an ideal spot because it was just on the fringe of being able to get good signals from U.S. TV stations. “American television came into being in 1948,” he says, “a full four years before the first Canadian station signed on.” This created a big demand for U.S. shows in Canada’s border areas.
Partly because it is in a valley, London received unreliable signals from TV stations in Detroit and Cleveland. Mr. Jarmain realized that to ensure good-quality pictures and sound, something well beyond rooftop antennas was needed, Prof. Spencer says. Therefore, he erected a large diamond-shaped antenna in his and his neighbour’s backyards and wired neighbourhood homes up to the antenna so they could enjoy clear signals. John rolled out this networks from its humble beginnings to the greater London area.
“Mr. Jarmain’s experiment was quite successful,” Prof. Spencer says, “and the neighbourhood antenna … eventually grew into London Cable. It is now part of the Rogers empire.“
John would tell stories of these early days in television and shared examples of the numerous technological issues that they needed to remedy. I clearly recall John trying to teach me about the complications of third order harmonics. To say I struggled to understand it all is an understatement. John had great patience with me and tried over and over to offer examples of the technical challenges of harmonic interference issues. Most mere mortals would have found the challenges of educating me too troublesome and would have surrendered in failure, but not John.
In the analog world, harmonics were very damaging to the signal and could disrupt it, or outright cancel it. In the digital world today, most young engineers have only a vague textbook comprehension of harmonics. It is largely forgotten engineering knowledge these days in the field of systems integration.
John was a dedicated family man and a friend to all. He was always happy and cheerful so the ideal coworker. He struggled later in life to keep up with all of the digital innovations but by that point in his career he had already forgotten more than today’s young engineering graduates will ever learn in their careers.
John was inventive, curious, and loved to explore problems and eventually to wrestle them to submission. He was a true innovator of his time. I dare say that Ed Jarmain would not be known today as the father of cable television if he did not have solid technical people like John supporting him. To create an industry takes a team, and even a community, as well as a lot of time and patience. John had the skills to keep the team working and to remain persistent attacking the problems until the solutions were evident. I worry that in these modern times, we lack the attention to detail and the longer term focus to do what John and his generation achieved. Young engineers now employ agile methods and just-in-time prototyping to take an iterative path towards success. There is rarely any time available to due things well, you just need to do it all good enough. So, John was of a generation that operated very differently compared to today’s digital, virtualized world.
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. He is employed by Wirepas Oy from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.