Today’s blog features an interview with John Downey, Senior CMTS Technical Leader, and Ron Hranac, Technical Marketing Engineer, both with the Cisco Cable Access Business Unit.
Ron Hranac is well known in the cable industry as an expert in RF, microwave, satellite, fiber optics, HDTV, two-way, and other cutting-edge technologies for cable. With 48 years in the industry, Ron is a recognized expert with the SCTE and a regular speaker at Cable-Tec Expo. Given his nearly five decades in the business, you would think we would know all there is to know about Ron. But do we? This cable expert spent time as a DJ, drag racer, and has several unique hobbies. John Downey sat down with Ron virtually and chatted about old times.
Ron has been contributing to the cable industry for 48 years and for the past 20, we’ve had the pleasure of working together at Cisco. You may have sought his advice on all things RF and HFC, plant troubleshooting, impairment identification, how to get your network ready for DOCSIS technology deployments, DAA or looked for his insight on S-Parameters. I’ve known him as a mentor and friend for many years.
Every year at SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo, we team up to heckle speakers in the technical workshops, share a laugh, and talk about what caught our eye on the show floor. This year, with Cable-Tec Expo being virtual, we chatted over Webex, and I learned a few unknown facts and tidbits about Ron.
John: I read that in the late ’80s you were involved in technology that led to what we now call HFC. Can you elaborate? When did you first enter the cable industry?
Ron: I was with Jones Intercable in the 1980s, and toward the end of the decade we were rolling out early fiber technology using an architecture called “cable area network” in Augusta, Georgia, and Broward County, Florida. There was some internal competition within the company to see which one would launch first, and Augusta won. Indeed, that Augusta deployment was the industry’s first production HFC rollout. My earliest memory of cable dates back to the late 1950s when the kids of some family friends were able to watch Captain Kangaroo weekday mornings via CATV service provided by a local company (in our house we could watch the Captain only on Saturday mornings on the town’s lone over-the-air TV station). In 1972, I started my cable industry career working for that same company. My first job was with what was then called TelePrompTer Cable TV, and I was a camera operator in their local origination TV studio. Looking back, it’s impressive how things have changed. For instance, in those days we used analog videotape, but now video storage is all-digital.
John: So you started in the content creation business and moved to the transmission of that content. What else were you doing around this time?
Ron: I moved to the outside plant as an installer and technician. I also was a disk jockey at a country & western radio station from 1974-1978. I worked for the cable company during the week and at the radio station on weekends.
John: Wow, a cable guy, content creator, and an entertainer. You are a merger, like Comcast and NBCU! How many albums can be stored on an iPhone today versus what the radio station had in their entire library? Think about how fast we could move that much information around today. Remember when we thought 2400 baud was fast, and now cable operators transmit over their residential networks at gigabit speeds? What are your thoughts on the “need for speed?”
Ron: More is always better, and speaking of speed, did you know that I used to drag race? Yes, drag race. In the 1970s, a friend and I teamed up to campaign a 1969 big-block Camaro in ET bracket drag racing at Spokane Raceway Park. Our claim to fame, with me driving, was a class championship in the 1977 Can-Am Bracket Nationals. In the mid-1970s, I won a stock car media race at the circle track in my hometown. The media race was for local DJs, newspaper, and TV personalities. In the excitement of the victory, I didn’t get a chance to thank the owner of the stock car I drove. Later, I stopped by the business run by the operators of the track to get contact info for the car’s owner, only to be told he had been disqualified from racing because of illegal modifications to the engine in his stock car. No wonder I won the media race by half a lap! I also used to own a variety of muscle cars and wish I kept a few of them. The prices have really appreciated.
John: Hindsight is 2020. Speaking of 2020, I’ve been making the best of the quarantine by tackling the honey-do list and found some old cable relics, such as pocket guides, diddle sticks, test equipment manuals, and magazines that my wife wishes I would throw out. Do you have a collection of cable industry relics?
Ron: I am a true geek. I had a large collection of cable industry coffee mugs that I donated to The Cable Center, and still have a collection of industry magazines, Broadband Data Books, trade show tchotchkes, a couple Jerrold 704 vacuum tube field strength meters, and years of ribbons from past SCTE Cable-Tec Expos! I enjoy collecting other things too. For instance, I still have the Lincoln cent collection I started with my grandfather when I was 10 or 12 years old. These days, I enjoy a variety of hobbies fit for a geek: astronomy, ham radio, coin collecting, rock and mineral collecting (I also collect meteorites), and all things Star Wars.
John: SCTE has long been a supporter of ham radio to increase awareness of the need to equip the technical workforce with a working knowledge of RF. Are you involved with this?
Ron: Yes, I’ve been a ham radio operator since the mid-1970s, and promoting that hobby within the industry since the late 1980s. Competence in RF technology is a cornerstone for the successful operation of a modern cable network. A good understanding of RF is critical to ensuring reliable network performance. Did you know I’ve also been a National Weather Service-trained severe weather spotter since 1990, and am a volunteer weather watcher for the local CBS television station? I was recently interviewed by Colorado Public Radio about August’s Perseid meteor shower.
John: I’m presenting in two Fall Technical Forum workshops during this year’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.
- How COVID-19 Catalyzed the Network
Wednesday, October 14, 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
- DAA Out in the Field: The Real Story
Wednesday, October 14, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
What’s your contribution to this year’s virtual Expo?
Ron: I will be moderating:
- Turn Up the (Software-Defined) Radio: New Ways to Test RF Performance Session
Tuesday, October 13, 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. ET.And, presenting the paper, “Full Band Capture Revisited,” as an opener for:
And, presenting the paper, “Full Band Capture Revisited,” as an opener for:
- What Does A Wider Upstream Path Mean for Signal Leakage Monitoring and Reporting?
Wednesday, October 14, 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. ET.
John: I’m looking forward to the virtual event, but I will miss the personal interactions and being able to get some hands-on with new technology. Do you have anything else planned for this year’s Cable-Tec Expo?
Ron: I’m going to be one of the panelists in an event called “PNM Live!,” during which we will be presenting videos of real in-the-field troubleshooting using proactive network maintenance tools. PNM Live! is taking place Thursday, October 15, 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. I’m also working on putting together a virtual ham radio reception, a previously in-person event that has been held at Expo dating back to about 1989.
John: Did you hear that our own John Chapman is hosting a webinar on Oct. 1 on DOCSIS 4.0 Evolution in the Cable Plant. What do you think he will talk about?
Ron: He told me it’s about how DOCSIS 4.0 technology enables the next generation of broadband over cable’s HFC networks. And he’s going to give valuable tips on how to improve the subscriber experience.
John: Thanks for your time in this interview, Ron. You really are a cable industry historian.
Stop by our virtual booth during SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. Both Ron and I will be holding virtual “office hours” and welcome all questions about cable technology and industry history. For a preview of what we’ll be sharing in our virtual booth, visit our Cisco SCTE Cable-Tec Expo site.