Who is the TelePrompTer?

I was walking around Morningside Heights the other day when I passed by this interesting courtyard at 521 West 111th Street. I went in to take some pictures…

Teleprompter 01

…and I noticed this odd sign to the the left of the front door.

Teleprompter 05

At first, I didn’t think much of it. But the more I considered it, the more I realized I had no idea what it meant and why it would be here of all places. Was it referring to the standard definition of a teleprompter, a machine that scrolls text for television broadcast cues? If so, was there really a problem with too many teleprompters in the neighborhood? Or was “teleprompter” another word for some sort of installer, maybe in regard to cable or telephone service? The sign on the other side suggested this might be the case…

Teleprompter 03

But why Teleprompter? In fact, the sign even correctly capitalizes the word TelePrompTer as per the TelePrompTer Corporation (note the great world-domination-suggesting logo):

Teleprompter 04

After some research, it turns out that TelePrompTer, indeed the company that revolutionized broadcast text display devices, was one of the first to venture into the uncharted realm of pay cable services in the 1950’s. They were present in New York at least until the early 1980s as a principal cable provider for the city. I’m not sure what happened to them after that. Any actual New Yorkers (i.e. those that lived here prior to 1980) want to comment?

Regardless, I love that this sign is still on the building. It seems unlikely that they’ll have any trouble with the ol’ Teleprompter Man putting his cables in the wrong place for people to trip over…but better safe than sorry.


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  1. ha, wish I could help, meet the pre-1980 cutoff and actually grew up two blocks from that building and had friends living there, but I’ve got no recollection of TelePrompTer cable…

  2. Fuzzy on the exact details, and not sure if this is helps, but from what I remember, when cable companies first started stringing up the city for cable there used to be real tension between landlords and the cable companies.

    Basically, the landlords would charge an arm and a leg for the companies to put cables between apartments and buildings. Eventually the State had to step in and regulated the system so that a cable company simply had to pay $1 for the right to lay their wires.

    I suspect this building put that up to try and keep TelePrompTer (or any other provider) from just stringing the cable outside so that they would have to pay the landlord a tidy fee? Or maybe the landlord just hated the wire on the outside aesthetic?

  3. I have been reading your blog for a few months, and I am continually impressed with your keen observations, not to mention your research into your discoveries! This post is a perfect example of that.
    Fascinating. Keep up the interesting work.

  4. The reference to Teleprompter that I remember from my Planning Law class is: Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp., which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on in 1982. It set the precedent that a permanent physical occupation (in this case, a cable company wiring a building against the owner’s wishes) constitutes a “taking” of property.

    I’m assuming that it is the same cable company…

  5. Great find! I didn’t get cable until 1986, and by that time the only options were Manhattan Cable or Liberty (I think). In the 70s I knew about cable, but don’t ever think I lived in a building that had been wired. But then, I didn’t own a TV anyway. I remember meeting a woman in a bar in 1983 and going over her apartment in the West Village, and she had cable! I was fascinated…between Channel J (Robin Byrd and Al Goldstein had shows) and Dr. Gene Scott http://www.drgenescott.com/ I couldn’t stop watching…

  6. I lived in Inwood, the northernmost area of Manhattan, and we had cable when I moved into my apartment in 1972. Teleprompter was the provider for most of the upper east side and upper west side up at that time. It was bought out by Group W westinghouse later on and I worked for them in 1982.

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  8. I had TelePrompTer as my cable company in the early 70s, then they morphed into Manhattan Cable (in the mid-70s if memory serves). It was bought by the NY Times who sold it off in 1989 (not sure who to).

  9. TelePrompter Cable, could also be known today as Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks. At least based on Wikipedia, the old TelePrompter Cable systems where bought by Advance Publications, who also owns Discovery Channel. Their systems where sold or leased to Time Warner Cable. Bright House Networks was introduced to the TelePrompter systems in Orlando/Tampa Florida, Alabama, Indianapolis, Detroit and Bakersfield CA. Based on the building location, could be Time Warner Cable or Cablevision.

    WIKIPEDIA: Prior to 1994, some of the systems were fully owned by Advance Publications under the names Vision Cable and Cable Vision (no relation to Cablevision Systems), while in other areas, Bright House Networks is the successor to Teleprompter Cable TV, Group W Cable, Strategic Cable, Paragon Cable and the Tampa Bay / Orlando Time Warner Cable systems in Florida.

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  11. I recently picked up an old Teleprompter Cable t-shirt at a thrift store in L.A. It’s yellow with red text and reads “UPTOWN: Turns Television On” in big letters, with “Teleprompter Manhattan Cable TV” in small print.

    Anyway it’s a very cool shirt and I hope to get lots of questions about it.

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