Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, July 29, 2016

THE STORY OF JOHN LACK

HE GOT HIS MTV


John Lack was a teenager of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.  He loved music, rock and roll in particular.  As a maturing adult of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, John Lack was a smooth salesman and proponent of revolutionary cable television programming.  The brief sojourner in Dublin had an brainstorm. John Lack thought that it would be a popular idea to combine his love for music with his passion to sell television programming.  The result was Music plus TV equals MTV.

John Lack was born in 1944 into a wealthy New York family.  He graduated from Boston University and earned a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from the prestigious Medill School at Northwestern University.  His first job was with Group W Cable. Lack was sent to Dublin to learn all he could about the cable television business. That was in the days when cable television was in its infancy in Dublin and most of the rest of the country as well. Clearview Cable Company came to Dublin in 1965.  Before then, antennas could pick up only four stations, five if you were lucky. WMAZ of Macon, WRDW and WJBF of Augusta, along with WDCO (GPTV) out of Cochran were all that one could see.  The latter required a UHF antenna. If you were lucky and the clouds were just right,  you might be able to see the low frequency, high power signal from WSB out of Atlanta.

“That was in the days when we sold cable television subscriptions for five dollars and ninety-five cents a month, said Judge Johnny Warren.  “I got to keep the first month’s payment as my commission,” said Warren, who remembered Lack as a “slick salesman type.” John Lack married Susan Schildhouse, daughter of Sol Schildhouse, a Washington D.C. attorney, who while with the Federal Communications Commission, played an active role in the federal government’s regulation of the cable television industry.  Susan, during the couple’s brief stay in Dublin, worked with the Courier Herald as a headline writer.  Their stay in Dublin was so brief that the Lacks never made it into the phone book before their move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

John Lack had a natural talent for broadcast journalism. John, who  was described as generous, charismatic and boyishly enthusiastic, had his moments, though not very frequent, of temperamental moods.  His friends knew that he had an uncommon ability to sell anyone on anything in a slow, rhythm-like reeling manner.

Lack took a job in 1970 as an account representative with CBS radio in New York.  At the age of 32, Lack had climbed the corporate ladder to the position of General Manager of WCBS-AM radio, CBS’s top network affiliate. The broadcast networks, both television and radio, were at their zenith, but Lack knew that the future of television would lie in a different field, cable television.

In 1979, Lack did the unthinkable.  He left the king of the networks for a position with Warner Communications, which was in its second year of a new cable service called Qube, which was being test marketed with its unheard of 36 channels in Columbus, Ohio.   The new system included for the first time, pay per view television channels.  When American Express bought into the venture, the company was split into two divisions.  Lack was chosen to work under his idol from his CBS days, Jack Schneider, to develop cable satellite programming.  Schneider and Lack revamped old Warner programming ideas and launched the Nickelodeon and The Movie channels.

Lack loved rock and roll music.  He loved to sneak away from school to hear black groups such as the Coasters.  Michael Nesmith, who had gained superstardom as one of the Monkees, proposed an innovative idea to Lack.  Nesmith, who had been producing video clips of himself  lip synching his songs, worked with Lack in developing a series of these clips under the title of “Pop Clips.” When Nesmith stated that he thought the future of music videos was in video discs and Lack firmly believed that the music video would become an integral part of the future of cable television, the duo parted ways.

Music videos had been around for more than four decades, but their distribution was minimal. John Lack had a vision: that people, especially young people, would watch an all-music network. After all, there was an all-sports network and all-news network, which were garnering new viewers every day.


Lack pushed his idea to a somewhat doubtful executive at Warner, who finally relented and gave John the go ahead.  HBO and USA networks were already on the air with single programs of videos.  On August 1, 1981, John Lack appeared before a television camera and launched his dream, MTV, by uttering those immortal words, “ Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”  The first video shown on the new music channel was appropriately, ironically and purposely, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” MTV in its first two decades of existence has become an American institution with teen-agers and the “X” Generation,” more popular than John Lack could have ever dreamed.

Lack left Warner to found ESPN-2.  From 1992-1995, Lack served as  Executive VP of Marketing and Programming at ESPN. John went on to serve as CEO of Stream Telecom, Italy’s pay television network. In November of 2000, John Lack was appointed President and CEO of i3 Mobile, a leading provider of wireless communication services.  Once again, John Lack is there on the forefront of the future, beyond the land line based communication industry which he helped to become an integral part of our lives today, working to provide America and the World with new and improved forms of communication and entertainment for the future with companies such as Stream, ACTV and FireMedia Partners,

John Lack has come a long way from the days when a few thousand Dubliners had cable television with less than a dozen channels and weather information, which was viewed by a moving camera and which moved back and forth filming dials showing temperature, relative humidity, time, and rainfall. The story makes you stop and think: What  is that young man in our schools or in your work place going to be doing twenty years from now. Who knows?

No comments: