Bill Daniels, a cable television pioneer who blazed the way with Daniels Communications, died Tuesday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage following a lengthy illness. He was 79.
Daniels, whose life was as varied as the viewing choices offered on today’s cable systems, began his love affair with broadcasting in the early days of TV, pioneering his way into the fledgling cable TV industry.
“He really was the father of the cable business because it was he who persuaded people it really was a business,” said U. of Denver chancellor Daniel Ritchie, who knew Daniels for 40 years. “It was he who got the ball rolling to build the great companies.”
Daniels, a decorated World War II naval fighter pilot and former New Mexico Golden Gloves boxing champion, also was a dedicated philanthropist whose donations included a $22 million gift to the U. of Denver.
In January, Daniels pledged most of his $1.4 billion estate to send thousands of underprivileged students across the West to college.
In recent years, Daniels worked to bring the National Cable Television Center and Museum to Denver, where it is based at the university. The school named the Daniels College of Business in his honor.
Daniels also created a bank dedicated to teaching youngsters fiscal responsibility and helped revamp the U. of Denver’s MBA program to focus on ethics, integrity and communications.
Born in Greeley, Colo., Daniels graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute in May 1941. In 1952, he constructed a Community Antenna Television system in Wyoming, becoming the first to relay a broadcast signal using microwave technology and giving residents their first taste of easily accessible TV. His dedication to cable started from there.
At a time when talk of cable ventures was considered a crazy and slightly un-American notion, Daniels was determined to help make it a force in America’s communications.
In 1958, he founded Daniels & Associates to facilitate investments in cable, becoming one of the most respected cable brokers in the nation. The company, which became Daniels Communications, was a leader in telecommunications investment.
Daniels owned and operated hundreds of cable television systems in nearly every state in the country before consolidating most and selling them.
Ritchie noted that Daniels was an ethical businessman throughout his decades-long career.
“He was scrupulously honest. He worked hard. He had the work ethic and he had high standards, but more than anything else, it was character,” he said. “If Bill said something, it was so.”
His interest in sports led him to be one of the first cable leaders to focus on sports programming.
He owned a professional basketball team in Salt Lake City; held a part interest in the Los Angeles Lakers; organized the Denver Rocks, a boxing team in the 1970s; was a founder of the USFL; handled the career of heavyweight contender Ron Lyle; and found the time and money to run a car at the Indianapolis 500.
Daniels also had political aspirations. He ran unsuccessfully for Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1974, getting through the nomination process only to lose to John Vanderhoof in the primary.
Memorial services are being planned for Denver, San Diego and Hobbs, N.M.