WILKES-BARRE – Despite some disputes, the folks at the Service Electric stake claim to be the first cable television company in the United States, having been established in 1940.
With 17,000 customers in Wilkes-Barre alone and over 300,000 system-wide, Service Electric retains the company’s primary mission of customer service and satisfaction today.
Larry Shewack, who has headed the Wilkes-Barre office since 2004, said Service Electric is customer-centric.
“We’re a local business,” Shewack said. “We respond quickly to customer concerns.
Shewack said customer satisfaction is the best way to ensure customer retention.
“We have same day / next day service,” he said. “We want to keep our customers happy. “
According to the company’s historical records, founder John Walson created the country’s first cable TV system in the 1940s in Mahanoy City, where tall mountains and buildings blocked TV signals to homes.
According to these historical documents, in 1979 the United States Congress and the National Cable Television Association recognized that Walson invented cable television in the spring of 1948.
Service Electric’s historical record shows that Walson was employed by the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company. In addition to this occupation, he and his wife also operated an electrical appliance store under a General Electric franchise.
In 1947, the Walsons began selling televisions in their appliance store. Because the town of Mahanoy was surrounded by mountains, an antenna tower was built on top of a nearby mountain. In search of ways to increase TV sales, a line was built between this antenna site and the Walson appliance warehouse.
Then, in June 1948, this line was extended on utility poles to the Walsons appliance store, connecting several families to its community antenna system. Three televisions were on display in the store window. Many people gathered in front of the store to watch Philadelphia channels 3, 6 or 10. As a result, a new industry was started in America.
From the early days of cable television, Walson began building systems in neighboring communities and others, who noticed his success, quickly followed in areas where reception of television signals was difficult or impossible.
Shewack said Service Electric is constantly improving its equipment.
“At the moment, we are in the process of installing a new control unit for the Internet,” he said. “It’s a million dollar investment.
Shewack said the biggest change in the business has been the popularity of internet streaming TV shows. He said the basic package available from Service Electric costs $ 39.95 per month, giving the subscriber 35 “limited basic” channels and Internet access.
The cost of cable TV is always on the rise, Shewack said, noting that every Jan. 1 there are rate hikes. He said these costs are also being driven up by programmers like ESPN, MTV, CNN, other networks and local stations.
Shewack said Service Electric employs 40 people, including contract labor. The 17,000 customer figure is down from an all-time high of 26,000 20 years ago, which Shewack attributes to satellite television.
Shewack has an antique television, circa 1940s, in his office. The screen size is comparable to that of an iPad or a large cell phone.
“In 20 years, everything we have today in this industry will be obsolete,” Shewack said.
Electrical service on J Campbell Colins Drive, Wilkes-Barre.
Larry Shewack, Manager of Service Electric, displays an old newspaper ad in his office collection.