I worked for Capitol Cablevision in the early 70s.  I was what they called a "Studio Technician".  My job was to run the old movies,  make sure the weather cam was working, but more importantly,  assist in running commercials that no one in the world ever saw, except here in Charleston WV.


Capitol Cable Primary Communications

In those days,  Capitol Cable only supplied three channels:  3-8-13, which was WSAZ, WCHS, and WOWK.  This sounds strange today, but if you lived where you couldn't get these channels on your antenna, you were happy to pay.  We also ran the occasional "B" rated black & white movie.  When they weren't playing, we had a camera that swept back and forth across some weather dials. 

Cable Cam

That's it. That's all you got for your money in the 60s and 70s, but many people had no other choice if they wanted to watch TV.

Capitol Cablevivion

The old Capitol Cablevision office on Broad Street

Capitol Cablevision had hooked up with a company out of NY called "Primary Communications".  That company was in charge of testing new products for all the major corporations in America.  Here's how it worked:

We only had 3 major television feeds in Charleston: Channel 8, 3, and 13.  During commercial breaks, we could stop the commercials coming out of New York and insert our own.  These new commercials belonged to the corporations, and so they paid us to block their own commercials from NY and insert their new commercial.  These new commercials were always new products that that the corporations were testing. Instead of filling grocery shelves all over America and hoping the new product would sell, (and possibly losing millions of dollars if they didn't) they brought thousands of these new products to Charleston and stored them in warehouses around town. The biggest ones were on Bullitt Street.  These new products were distributed to all the stores in the Capital Cablevision viewing area.  Then, all day long we would block that corporations commercial out of NY and insert the new product commercial.

We had a log of every commercial about to play, and so we watched our monitors carefully. When the NY commercial was about to play, and the TV screen went black for a split second, we would push a button and block that commercial. Then we inserted the new commercial. We had  state of the art 2 inch Ampex video recorders. These were very expensive, and you had to run them up to speed in order to play the commercial properly.  Remember, this was 1972 and it would be close to a decade before home units were available.

Capitol Cable Primary Communications

At that point, we checked to make sure that the commercial we blocked was the corporations commercial, and not someone else's.  Then we fired the VCR and played their commercial.  For people who saw this back then, they noticed that sometimes the commercials would be cut off abruptly and the TV show they were watching would start late.  This was because WE were late in starting our commercial on time. This was usually because we weren't sure that the commercial we were about to cover up was really ours, and the last thing we wanted to do was cover up someone else's commercial that they spent a lot of money on.

Another interesting thing is that Capitol Cablevision actually had 2 lines.  That meant that we could run our commercial on "Cable A",  "Cable B" or both.  And THAT meant that you might see the commercial out of NY if you were on an antenna, while your next door neighbor saw a different one, and HIS neighbor saw a different one.  As women were the main shoppers, most of the products were geared towards them.  For instance: We had a product called "Dynamo Liquid Laundry Detergent". 

Capitol Cable Primary Communications

See the story of this product at the bottom of the page

Another one was "Betty Crocker Snacking Cake".  The company would load all the store shelves with these products, and if they didn't sell here in Charleston, they were never seen again. If they DID sell, then they were distributed all over America.

Capitol Cable Primary Communications

Charleston was picked as a testing center for a couple of reasons, demographics being the main one.  We had rich and poor, young and old. The other was that we had a decent Cable system in place.   So Charleston was picked over many other cities.

I always felt that since the customers of Capitol Cable were guinea pigs for new products, they should get a discount on their bill, and there were some that actually did by filling out a form of what they purchased that week.  Anyway, that's the best kept secret in Charleston for years,  and few today even know it happened.
So What Happened?

I really don't know, as I left the company about 2 years later.  Actually I was fired. Why?  I was working 7 days a week for two solid years without a day off.  On the weekdays, I was working for Capitol Cablevision, while on the weekends, I worked for Primary Communications. ( They were the ones doing the commercials remember? )   Thing is, I was putting in 56 hours a week with no overtime, because each company paid me separately. What's wrong with that you say?  Here's what:  I was doing the exact same job for both companies.  What I did 5 days a week was exactly the same as I did on the weekends, but they split the days so they wouldn't have to pay me overtime.  After 2 years of this I happened to mention to someone in the building that I didn't think that was fair.  So that "someone" mentioned it to the boss and I was immediately fired.   The WV wage & hour division was just around the corner from our building, so I walked straight over there and told them what was going on.  To make a long story shorter,  I was given thousands of dollars back pay and the boss himself was let go.

In the meantime, I know that Primary Communications vacated their building ( which was across Broad Street from us ) some time later. I don't remember when.    None of us know today what's going on behind the scenes.  Are they still testing us?  With today's technology, they could and we'd never know it.

Now about that Dynamo....


The warehouse over on Bullitt Street was full of Dynamo Liquid Laundry Detergent.  One day a worker walked in only to find an inch of the detergent covering the floor.  It seems that the caps on the bottles were faulty, and hundreds of gallons had leaked.  Now how this happened I don't know, because if the bottles were stacked upright, that shouldn't have happened.  Whatever the reason, they had to destroy thousands of gallons of the stuff before it hit the market shelves.  Our company told us that we employees could have all we could carry out of the warehouse, but that just made a dent in the amount.  So they hired a local well known refuse company to haul it all away to the landfill. This they did.... but not all of it.  About a quarter of the stuff they saved to wash their garbage trucks, which they did for over a year. But "someone" saw that they were still using the stuff and turned them in to the company who made it.  That brought about a lawsuit, of which I cant remember the outcome.  I do know that the privately owned garbage company wasn't around later. How much later I don't remember, and I also know if their demise had anything to do with the lawsuit or not.



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