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John Walson Sr.; Built First Cable TV System

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

John Walson Sr., who hooked a length of wire to the top of a mountain in eastern Pennsylvania and linked it to some television sets, creating what is considered the first cable television system, is dead of liver cancer. He was 78.

Walson died Saturday in Sacred Heart Hospital. He was admitted to the hospital more than three years ago after suffering a stroke, his son John Walson Jr. said.

In 1979, Congress and the National Cable TV Assn. recognized Walson’s pioneering efforts in television history.

Walson owned an appliance store in Mahanoy City, near Allentown. In 1947, he discovered that he had trouble selling televisions because nearby mountains interfered with the reception.

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He erected an antenna tower atop New Boston Mountain overlooking Mahanoy City and ran wire to television sets in his store window.

He added amplifiers to the system the next spring, then persuaded residents to hook up for a $100 installation fee and $2 per month.

His company, called Service Electric Cable TV, now has more than 400 employees and serves subscribers in eastern and central Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey.

Walson made cable television history again in 1972 when his company became the first to offer the Home Box Office cable channel to customers. HBO recently presented him with an award recognizing that distinction.

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