The story of television – The Final Chapter
Continuing on from the last post….
I’m not sure why I’m writing all this, but if nothing else, it’s a bit of autobiography that someone may find interesting. Anyway it clears my mind of some clutter and is an actual topic to scribble about.
During my years in the cable company, there had been some major innovations. One was my first sight of a BetaMax video tape recorder someone had set up in the office. Also a manager laid his hands on a widescreen television. It was an enormous yoke. It’ll never catch on! One day the Technical Manager borrowed a satellite dish from the nearby university and the two of us spent a happy time scanning the skies for signals. It was a success but I didn’t for a moment think anyone was going to buy an eight foot diameter dish on its own trailer.
Then the storm clouds arrived.
Relays used to be based in the old White House on the RTE campus. Suddenly we were moved to the furthest possible location from the studios while still remaining on RTE land. Rumours started about mergers and sell-offs. The rumours were all denied by management.
Then we were moved off the campus and into Dublin City Centre [Hawkins House – Dublin’s ugliest building]. Rumours grew stronger that there was something nasty going on. It was then announced [via newspaper reports] that Relays had merged with another company and that the name was changed to Cablelink. This led to an interesting scenario where those of us originally employed by RTE were semi-state while the rest were private sector. This led to all sorts of anomalies in wages, entitlements and security. We [RTE mob} demanded to know what the situation was. We were told nothing. The rest of the staff were furious that we had fewer deductions from our salaries [because we had less entitlements but they didn’t want to know that]. It was a very unhappy place to work.
Then we heard [via the newspapers] that the company was now for sale. I applied for a transfer back to studios but was told I belonged to a grade that no longer existed. In effect I was no longer an RTE employee and if I wanted a job there I would have to apply as an ordinary outsider with no special privileges. I was assured however that the fact that I was now paid with a Cablelink cheque instead of an RTE one was just a simple matter of efficiency.
There were strikes, mainly at the frustration of hearing everything via newspapers. The staff were never consulted or even informed. Eventually all the RTE staff got a letter assuring us that legally our status as semi-state RTE employees was secure and that we retained full pension rights and access to all RTE facilities. [Note: years later I found a letter from RTE’s lawyers to prospective purchasers explaining that the letter that had been sent wasn’t worth worth the paper it was typed on and its sole function was to keep us quiet].
The office was moved again, out of the city centre to its own building in Ballsbridge
At this point I was applying for every job that RTE advertised. It didn’t matter if it was something technical or making tea in the canteen, I went for it. Personnel got used to me turning up for every interview.
A job was advertised where they were looking for a computer programmer. That was one job I decided not to apply for as I would be up against university graduates and my only experience was on a Sinclair Spectrum. But then I realised that if I didn’t apply, Personnel would wonder why I hadn’t and this could count against me at the next interview. So I applied anyway just to keep the bandwagon rolling.
Two hundred people applied for that job. We had a series of interviews whittling down the numbers. Then us survivors were sent for a written test with multi-choice answers [it looked one of those intelligence test things]. I carefully completed the page. With two minutes to go I suddenly realised there were five more pages. I frantically lashed through those pages just answering the questions with random ticks. At my next interview they mentioned I had had the highest score in the written test. The Gods were with me?
Ten of us were then sent on a two week programming course [in COBOL!]. Six of us survived. I was offered the job!
But then Relays/Cablelink wouldn’t let me go. They said they had no replacement for me. A war of words broke out between the two companies and finally I was told I was released.
As a footnote, the day before I officially left to become a programmer, Cablelink was sold to Eircom [National phone company] and all staff including the RTE ones were informed they were now Eircom employees.
And thus ends my time with televisions. From then on it was computers and no one wants to hear about them?
You do? Weird.
You can't leave out some of the best bits!
(Are any of the Relays/Cablelink people still left with Eircom/Eir? It would seem a horrible fate, how many owners has that benighted company had?)
I don't really know. No familiar faces appeared on campus and I heard somewhere that some had left altogether and others had stayed under the new regime. Eircom then sold it again to NTL who were then in turn taken over by Virgin Media. I was so damned lucky to get away from that mess.
I taught at a tech college in the 1990's and was always surprised we used COBOL – it was always about to be superceded – the kids wanted VB or Java – then came Y2K, and now in 2020 COBOL still doesn't know when to lie down.
I had never heard of COBOL before the interview. As far as I was concerned there was only one language – Sinclair BASIC. God only knows why COBOL survived. It's a nightmare to write. Y2K was a laugh too as most of our programmes had defined Year as a two-digit number which of course had to be changed to four. Fun times.
It all takes me back years:- I cut my teeth with self-taught Basic on a Commodore PET, then went on a training course for COBOL, RPGII, 360 Assembler (and more) subsequently becoming a fully-fledged programmer at the end of the '70s. Joined a multi-national US computer manufacturer (not IBM) in sales support, working closely with the engineers so became a fairly competent fitter back in the days of wood-burning, steam-powered computers. Happy days of yore!
Hah! A similar course through life. Basic and Z80 assembler – self taught, then COBOL [for ICL]. Later on delved into HTML, then CSS and of course PHP.
You made Television interesting.
Look on computers as a challenge.
I was a hardware engineer and I thought that all the men, they were always men, taking up the top IT jobs were bullshitters. But The Management knew nothing and probably being impressed by the quality of the bullshit gave them the jobs.
They only had to last a wee while before moving with enhanced CV before the bullshit hit the fan.
I always felt sorry for the poor, real guys, just out of training, college, uni whatever working for these twats.
On one occasion a young man accepted a job, turned up on Monday morning and disappeared at lunchtime. Said he could not work for a cunt. He was much admired and even envied.
You didn't work in RTE? It sounds like you did. RTE was like most places: divided in two – Management, and those who actually knew how to do things. I don't think it's changed much either
I decided to leave my comment on all 3 chapters here. Seemed logical.
I had to chuckle that you started out early as "sound engineer" of sorts. I was involved in that starting when I was 16 years old back in the mid to late '70s (I loved it). I was already involved with the local theater, specializing in musicals no less, which required the presence of a sound engineer. This happened to be the director himself who took me under his wing so to speak and gave me a decent education and introduction to the art of running a sound board, which mics to choose, where to place them, etc and so-on. Much much later I had my own side business called Poor Boys Sound. Kind of a mobile sound studio. Of course that all went south when I lost me hearing. Ah well, fortune is.
The only programming I ever delved into on my own was Apple basic (needed for my aforesaid side business due to the office PC being an Apple II-E) and plain old Basic when I became involved PCs. My full time job involved more than a few main frame type but only on the care and maintenance thereof, not programming. Good thing too. I never really had the head for coding. Troubleshooting code, yes. Not code from scratch.
I wonder now and then what having a "job-for-life living in the same place for life" would have been like rather than the highly varied life I've had. Probably get bored knowing me.
Excellent 4 chapters, sir.