Home » Editorial & Site News »History »Video » Currently Reading:

Happy Thanksgiving: History — A Look at Warner’s QUBE Cable TV From 1978

Phillip Dampier November 25, 2010 Editorial & Site News, History, Video 10 Comments

QUBE's "revolutionary" interactive wired remote control, from 1978 (courtesy: QUBE-tv.com)

Happy Thanksgiving to all Stop the Cap! readers.

While we take a break from our usual reports, let’s turn the clock all the way back to 1978, an era before broadband (or dial-up for the most part) and even before most of the basic cable networks know today existed.  Cable television was not even an option yet in many communities, although discussions about the concept were well underway.

In Columbus, Ohio Warner Cable constructed an experimental two-way cable system called QUBE, which brought 30,000 homes in the city access to interactive, locally-produced programming.  Viewers could vote on different topics, share their opinions, answer quizzes, and order individual pay-per-view movies — a new concept for most people back then.

Cable television in 1978 didn’t deliver CNN, TNT, ESPN, or any of dozens of other cable networks that are household names today.  Instead, most delivered clear signals of broadcast television stations received over the air from a master antenna mounted high above the local cable company, supplemented with text-based information channels running newswires, sports scores, financial tickers, weather and other wire service reports.  Locally produced government, public access and educational programming covered much of the rest of the channel lineup.  Cable radio hooked up to home stereos and delivered improved FM radio reception and some privately run cable radio stations.

QUBE was no different in this respect.  The bulk of the programming people watched came from local broadcasters and imported stations from Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Athens — all selected from a wired remote control.  It total, QUBE carried 30 channels, 10 of which were premium or pay per view.  The concept was so revolutionary, some folks traveled from miles around to record sample programming off the system and share copies of videotapes with other cable enthusiasts.

QUBE was not a financial success for Warner, however.  The costs to produce interactive programming, building brand new cable systems, and purchasing the equipment to run them, caused Warner to accumulate $875 million in total debt by 1983.  It abandoned the concept a few years later because new cable networks and superstations were rapidly signing on, creating a huge number of new viewing options that effectively drowned out the locally-produced interactive shows.  Cable would remain a one-way medium, at least for awhile.

Watching the enthusiasm of Ray Glasser, who produced the video included below, all over a 30-channel cable system was fascinating, as was watching the assortment of television stations sampled from more than 30 years ago.  And check out those supermarket prices listed on one of the text channels Ray previews.  After a series of sales and ownership transfers, Warner Cable still exists in Columbus.  But today, we know it better as Time Warner Cable.

[flv width=”422″ height=”327″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Qube.flv[/flv]

A video tour of Warner Cable’s QUBE system in Columbus, Ohio, produced in 1978 by Ray Glasser.  (50 minutes)

0 0 votes
Article Rating
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
gabe
gabe
11 years ago

ahead of its time some of this stuff is still not here yet but will be

Smith6612
Smith6612
11 years ago
Reply to  gabe

It was ahead of it’s time, but for the late 70s, this was something very impressive. Thanks for sharing the video Phil :). I found it educating.

jr
jr
11 years ago

That remote control rules

GeorgeO
GeorgeO
11 years ago

I lived in Cincinnati for 6 months in 1982. I totally forgot about Qube. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

That remote WAS the coolest thing in the world, to a 11 year old future geek. Awesome.

Progrocktv
Progrocktv
11 years ago

Yes, Ray has certainly been a FANTASTIC contribution to preserving classic TV by being an early adopter and innovator and having the foresight to record some of this GREAT stuff (if it weren’t for him we probably wouldn’t have the hysterical Paul Lynde doing the weather one night for a local Cleveland newscast) Cube TV also featured Sight On Sound,a precursor to MTV which also featured the ability for audiences to vote on what songs bands should play during live concerts.

DeanSB
DeanSB
11 years ago

Warner Amex Cable’s QUBE system was even heard about in MY neck-of-the-woods here in Storm Lake, Iowa way back then!! Back then, Cable TV only had 12 channels (2 thru 13 on the HVHF band of the TV dial) and was pretty much only local Sioux City, Iowa broadcast TV stations, ad well as broadcast stations imported from Omaha, Des Moines, Ames, Vermillion, S.D., and Mankato, MN. The only other stations on the system back then were a local text-based weather/background music station, and 2 satellite-delivered stations…CBN (which was an all-Religious station back then) and WTCG “Super 17” in Atlanta,… Read more »

Bob in Illinois
Bob in Illinois
11 years ago

It’s hard to convey how revolutionary QUBE was, for the late Seventies. I remember reading about QUBE in either TIme or Newsweek magazine. I was envious, since our town didn’t even have cable TV then. Remote Controls- I noticed the QUBE remote control. Back then, it was unusual to have a TV Remote. (Yes, trivia experts, Zenith had started producing Space Command back in the 50’s.) My point is that remote controls were rarely seen. Also, I would suspect that most did not have remotes until VCRs in the Eighties. Even then, hard wired VCR remotes(connected to the VCR) were… Read more »

DOROTHY
DOROTHY
11 years ago

I worked at QUBE as an associate producer then a director. We invented shopping channels, MTV, Nickelodeon, interactive television, shows where the people at home choose the winner (talent, beauty pageants, courtroom drama) and did an interactive movie where the people at home made plot decisions, and an Ohio State football scrimmage where the people at home called the plays. Way, way ahead of its time, because there was virtually no internet at the time!

Ken McCaleb
11 years ago

Dorothy (above) is correct. we did invent MTV. One of the first videos that aired was Queens, “We are the champions”.
Until then there was no platform to air music videos. I worked with Dorothy on Flippo’s Magic Circus (similar to Wonderama) a children’s game show. We all practically lived at the studio 24/7 creating original programming from scratch. I remember a blizzard where we didn’t go home for five days. For most of us this was television boot camp. Ken McCaleb, UNTV senior director.

Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

Your Account:

Stop the Cap!