Friday, July 8, 2011

The Man Who Put DirecTV On The Air


When you’re a grown man and married yourself when your parents come to you and tell you they are getting a divorce I suppose it can be a shock, but for me it was more along the lines of what does this have to do with me? I could tell my parents were unhappy and the idea of them looking for happiness elsewhere I couldn’t argue with. Twenty five odd years later it did turn out to be a win for both sides, and a real positive for me as I got another fantastic lady to consider my Mom from my Pops, and an outstanding man as another father from Moms, the man who put DirecTV on the air David A. Baylor.

When Dave entered my life he had recently taken on the job of Vice President of Operations for NBC, having served in that role previously for the Public Broadcasting System. While with PBS Dave was responsible for helping to implement the first closed captioning system for the hearing impaired as well as the first network satellite distribution system he also led the effort to put PBS back on the air in hours after a fire destroyed their broadcasting facility when estimates had the damage taking days to repair.

I sometimes wonder who was more nervous when we began to build our relationship. Men and boys can obviously be very protective of their mothers and I was no different. If he indeed had the most jangled nerves he sure went along way towards winning me over with my first trip to New York. I was a recently graduated from college, and newly minted corporate warrior sales rep, and for the day I got to put on my 1a closing suit and shiniest wing tips and go into New York City on the arm of a real executive.


If you’ve never had the chance to tour a corporate edifice as the guest of someone that edifice calls a big boss, then I recommend it. It’s highly choice. That was one of the most fun days of my life. I got to shake hands meet and greet the entire executive wing of NBC as well as fan boy the Saturday Night Live cast, (Steve Martin was the guest!) but the most magical thing for me was being able to sit in Tom Brokaw’s chair and pretend to read the news. As I was spinning around in Tom’s chair like a school kid a production assistant tagged me on the shoulder, you’ll have to leave breaking news. We had just invaded Panama.

Now as a note, if your new stepchild has just gotten their degree in Political Science and you want to earn brownie points exponentially hook it up so he can see the invasion of another country from the control room of a major American television network, believe me IT WORKS!

DB continued his tenure at NBC doing all kinds of exciting things in his industry keeping NBC on the cutting edge of broadcast technology. One of the initiatives I’m sure got him his next gig was his leadership in launching and implementing a Ku-band satellite broadcast system for NBC and the Skycom NBC affiliate satellite news gathering system, SNG, so when you see a remote newscast from your local station all fresh and clear you can thank DB.

His next mission would involve an entirely new system for the delivery of television signals to the home. The direct satellite broadcasting of television right to the consumer using a very small dish, what would be the wave of growth in the TV industry for the 1990’s and beyond or what Hughes Communications called its product DirecTV.

DB was the 34th employee of that firm, and took the position of Executive Vice President, Technology and Operations. However, outside of that he brought my Moms home to So. Cal. from New York City, so there went the last possible reason for me to be cross with him although I do miss the opportunity to get a real hot dog.

Having the opportunity to sit near the decision making in the genesis and growth of a new American industry was extremely exciting. DB was always into something I find fascinating. I have written before I was a space kid my Pops as well as 2 other members of my parental unit were computer experts for the Jet Propulsion Lab. My Pops holds several patents and was partly responsible for developing photo/radar software for the NASA missions that explored using those capabilities as well as being a part of several other missions at the Lab, so watching space missions was something I was used to.

DirecTV’s launch was a whole level of magnitude more exciting. DB used a new and extremely cool method to deliver the satellites DirecTv would use to space, Sea Launch.

Sea Launch is a spacecraft launch service that uses a mobile sea platform for equatorial launches of commercial payloads on specialized Zenit 3SL rockets. As of April 2009 it had assembled and launched thirty rockets, with two failures and one partial failure.

The sea-based launch system means the rockets can be fired from the optimum position on Earth's surface, considerably increasing payload capacity and reducing launch costs compared to land-based systems.

Sea Launch was established in 1995 as a consortium of four companies from Norway, Russia, Ukraine and the United States and their first rocket was launched in March 1999. It was managed by Boeing with participation from the other shareholders.[1][2]

All commercial payloads have been communications satellites intended for geostationary transfer orbit with such customers as EchoStar,DirecTV, XM Satellite Radio, and PanAmSat.
The launcher and its payload are assembled on a purpose-built ship Sea Launch Commander in Long Beach, California, USA. It is then positioned on top of the self-propelled platform Ocean Odyssey and moved to the equatorial Pacific Ocean for launch, with the Sea Launch Commander serving as command center.

Wiki page of Sea Launch

He oversaw the construction and operations of the worlds first multichannel all digital broadcast facility in Castle Rock, Colorado, and helped the Japanese establish their DirecTV services also, although it was a real bummer to lose Moms again for a short while when they had to spend extended periods there. He and his team were awarded 3 technical Emmy awards for their work establishing the tech of DirecTV

DB would never state this, but lord knows I’m not shy. The man knows the corporate game, and although he’s now out of it, what pulled the rip chord on his golden parachute was a nemesis I think the whole world now is watching, Newscorp.

Seems like a year or three after DirecTV was really rolling DB contracted with a Newscorp subsidiary to produce the security cards and system for DirecTv's converter boxes. (I used to tease DB because whenever he went to a convention he won the drawing for the golf bag or whatever, he’d think he was lucky but as a sales dude, I knew he wasn't, people with 100’s of millions in budgets seem to get real lucky at those things) They were a joke. I actually had a partner who made his living cracking the converter cards and giving hook ups to DirecTV and he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the bunch. He would crack at me DB is your people? Tell him thanks. Now did I get the hook up, me the son of the VP? Heck and no! Anyway DB busted that problem up, sued the Newscorp subsidiary and won, but guess what happened when Newscorp purchased DirecTV? Don’t guess, he was shown the door.

Now as a sales rep to the stars I’ve been fired from positions, oh lets be safe and say 5 times. Being fired from a position like that is way different then us. He was perfectly set up to retire as what would be thought of as a relatively young man in his late 50’s. Rather than do that however he assumed the title of Secretary General of the North American Broadcasters Association.

“David is recognized within the North American broadcasting community for his leadership in dealing with challenges and opportunities presented by technological change,” said NABA President Peter Smith. “We are very happy to have an experienced NABA Board member to assume the Secretary General post,” he added, noting that Mr. Baylor represented Associate members on the NABA Board from 2000 to 2004.

NABA website link

DB has recently concluded his tenure with NABA, but will that brother learn how to sit on his butt and retire? Nope, he’s now serving on the Board of Directors for Harvey Mudd College, and working extremely hard on the Board of a charity very close to his heart New Directions giving back to veterans of the organization where he was actually first really trained the United States Military.

As I’ve been enjoying my life with Moms and DB it has often occurred to me, why isn’t this brother in Ebony, of Jet. Here’s an example of a Black man that is at the worldwide top of a very exclusive and technical field. He achieved his position the old fashioned way as a hands on engineer who first fell in love with TV’s helping his uncle in his TV repair shop, and made it to the pinnacle of his profession with a base of education found in the military, but outside of technical journals and industry magazines no one would have known he existed. I suppose that’s why I was motivated to ask him if he minded if I wrote about him. I’m not really into the role model thing personally, but I understand how they could be used, and I can’t think of many better examples then the man I’m proud to call a second father.

Namaste friends!

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