Cable Guy

Bill Daniels made a fortune bringing cable to the West. But would he agree with how his legacy is being spent?

The opening of the Daniels Fund's new office building in Cherry Creek last November was a festive occasion. A who's who of Denver's prominent and powerful were in attendance to help christen the foundation's swank new headquarters.

Bill Daniels, the legendary cable-TV entrepreneur who created the billion-dollar fund, had personally chosen the site at First Avenue and Monroe Street before he died in 2000. A dapper ladies' man who had a fondness for luxury -- "The best is good enough for me" he often quipped -- Daniels made it clear that he wanted a first-class building. With 27,000 square feet of space encased in red brick and Indiana limestone, a pre-aged copper roof and lavish landscaping, the building mimics the expensive homes surrounding it. The interior walls are lined with cherry paneling, and skylights and Colorado rose granite give the entry a sumptuous air. Mementos of Daniels's life are prominently displayed on the walls, including his World War II navy commander's uniform and his Blue Angels flight jacket.

Daniels Fund president and CEO, former U.S. senator Hank Brown, proudly escorted visitors around the new building, praising the fund's staff for its hard work on the $14.5 million facility.

 
 
Bill Daniels
Bill Daniels

The party ended the next morning.

Brown laid off 21 of 62 staffers and closed the fund's offices in Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah in an attempt to save $2.6 million annually. The cost-cutting, however, did not include Brown or the other members of the ten-person board of directors: The CEO kept his $400,000 salary -- including a $30,000 raise instituted in June 2003 -- and the directors chose not to forgo their stipends, which can total as much as $50,000 a year.

"It was like a slap in the face to the community," says Fachon Wilson, a volunteer in the Daniels Fund's former Sheridan, Wyoming, office. "Based upon what I've been told about Bill Daniels, I can't imagine he would have approved of this."


In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower was running for president, the hydrogen bomb had just been detonated in the South Pacific, and The African Queen was the most-talked-about film.

Casper, Wyoming, was as remote from any of these developments as anywhere in the country. A sleepy oil town along the banks of the North Platte River, Casper wasn't the sort of place that ever expected to be on the cutting edge.

That was all about to change.

In the fall, a young insurance salesman by the name of Bill Daniels was on his way back to Casper from his home town of Hobbs, New Mexico. Daniels stopped in Denver to grab a sandwich, taking a seat at the counter of Murphy's, his favorite bar on Broadway. He immediately noticed a box above the bar that was showing black-and-white pictures of what seemed to be a fight. He asked the bartender what it was.

"Television."

The former Golden Gloves boxing champ sat transfixed, watching a live broadcast of the Wednesday-night fights from Madison Square Garden in New York. It was being shown on Channel 2, Denver's first and only TV station. Daniels had never gone to college and had no technical background, but he knew immediately that if he could get the signal to Casper, he would have customers lined up around the block.

For the next year, the 32-year-old worked tirelessly to raise funds, acquire the technical know-how and get legal permission to broadcast Channel 2's signal into Casper via an almost unknown technology called cable. Televisions weren't even available in Casper, but once the signal went live in December 1953, they were brought into town by the truckload.

Using his sales background, Daniels took his cable show on the road, taking the magic of television to small towns across the West. He eventually relocated to Denver and in 1958 started his own company, Daniels & Associates, which brokered the sale of cable systems all over the country and helped launch other cable entrepreneurs by providing management and technical expertise in exchange for equity in the new companies. People flocked to Daniels for his vision, and -- largely because of him -- Denver eventually became home to the largest cable television companies in the United States. The industry also made Daniels one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Despite his small stature, Daniels was larger than life. He developed a reputation as a brilliant dealmaker, a legendary playboy who married four times, and a rich guy with a heart. His mansion just off Leetsdale Drive, known as Cableland, was the site of many romantic conquests and countless charity functions. When Daniels died in 2000, at age 79, he gave the 24,000-square-foot home -- complete with multiple bars, a swimming pool and cascading waterfall, and a living room big enough to host hundreds of guests -- to the City of Denver as the official mayoral residence.

Daniels's beginnings, however, were much more humble. He was born on July 1, 1920, in Greeley, where his father was a wholesale candy salesman. He was named Bill because he was born on the first day of the month, when most of the struggling family's bills were due.

When he was three, the family moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where his father went into the insurance business. The young Daniels began selling the Saturday Evening Post door to door when he was eight, adding other business as he grew older, including selling ice cream from the back of his bicycle. After the Depression hit, Daniels and his brother, Jack, gathered firewood outside town to keep the furnace running at home.

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