Cable Pioneer Bill Bresnan Dies; Titan with a Heart-of-Gold was a 50-year Veteran of the Cable Industry

Nov 28, 2009  •  Post A Comment

billBresnan.jpgWilliam J. Bresnan, 75, one of the true pioneers in the cable industry, has died of complications of cancer. Bresnan, one the best recognized figures in the cable industry, was known as Bill by his legends of friends. He passed away on Friday, Nov. 27th at home in Greenwich, CT.

A native of Mankato, Minnesota, he was involved in cable for more than 50 years. He designed his first cable system in Rochester, Minnesota–not far from Mankato–in 1958.

According to his official biography, "when that system was acquired by West Coast entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke in 1965, he joined the Cooke executive team. Cooke’s holdings ultimately were merged with TelePrompTer Corporation, at that time the nation’s largest cable operating company. Mr. Bresnan served as President of TelePrompTer’s Cable Television Division from 1974 to 1981, at which time Westinghouse Electric purchased TelePrompTer and Mr. Bresnan became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the new company, Group W Cable. He left Group W Cable and founded Bresnan Communications in 1984."

I worked for Bill back when he was at TelePrompTer and I was selling cable TV subscriptions door-to-door in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. But I didn’t meet him until much later, when I had switched careers and became a journalist. 

What has always struck me almost singularly about Bill over the years, was how much he cared. How much he cared about people, both those that worked for him and those that didn’t.

Like many of his fellow cable pioneers he was smart and entreprenurial. Unlike a lot of them, he had an enthusiasm for cable that never waned. While a number of those pioneers were content with finally selling out to bigger companies, Bill never lost his entreprenurial spirit.

Here is the statement about Bresnan’s passing by Kyle McSlarrow, president & CEO of the
National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA):

"This is an irreplaceable and heartbreaking loss. Bill Bresnan was one of our industry’s titans – an industry pioneer, visionary entrepreneur, and technology leader who built companies that always put employees and customers first. But his impact on our industry was immeasurable in many other ways. Bill set the standard for commitment to diversity, serving as a mentor to many rising cable executives, a friend to thousands of people across the business, and inspiring the work of diversity advocates and organizations throughout our industry. We’re also deeply grateful for the leadership Bill demonstrated in establishing our industry’s commitment to public service through his work in creating organizations such as C-SPAN and Cable in the Classroom.

"In addition to his many other roles in our industry, Bill served as a distinguished Chairman of the NCTA Board of Directors and was a member of our Board for more than 35 years. Bill was a trusted friend and mentor to me and many former and current NCTA employees. We offer our deepest sympathies to his wonderful wife, Ann; his family; the employees of his fine company, Bresnan Communications; and to all of those who worked with Bill throughout his long career."

In an interesting sidenote, according to Bresnan Communications, "Mr. Bresnan was instrumental in lighting up the Chrysler Building, an achievement which helps to illuminate the New York skyline. While working for Jack Kent Cooke in the 1970’s, he was asked by Mr. Cooke, who had purchased the building, to look into the feasibility of doing so. Mr. Bresnan put on jeans and crawled to the top of the skyscraper where he noticed unfinished wiring in the cut-glass windows at the peak. This discovery made the lighting possible."

According to Multichannel News, "In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you please make a donation to the Ann and Bill Bresnan Foundation, which, among other things, will continue to fund research into the rare form of cancer that he fought so courageously for the last year at: Ann and Bill Bresnan Foundation, Bresnan Communications, Inc., One Manhattanville Road, Purchase, NY 10577-2596, Attention: Shawn Beqaj."

Here are details about the funeral arrangements:

Leo P. Gallagher & Son Funeral Home / 203-869-1513
31 Arch Street
Greenwich, CT 06830

Viewing hours are Monday, November 30 and Tuesday, December 1, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.


St. Mary’s Church
178 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830

Mass at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, December 2, 2009. Bishop William Lori.

For a detailed biography of Bresnan, from the website of the Cable Center, click here.

–Chuck Ross



  1. I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of one of the industry’s gentle giants among many of the not so gentle cable Yiants. When i first became New York Bureau Chief of Electronic Media, now TV Week, Bill was the first cable operator I met.
    Thouht I better learn something about cable, now that it was under my wing because earlier broadcast TV was my beat.
    Bill was generous with his time and knowledge. When he first sold his company to Charter Communications he took very good care of all of his employees, many who became millionaires.
    I visited him often, especially after the passing of his first wife Barbara. Soon, with the encouragement of his new wife he came back with a passion in cable, recreating his cable company with a different footprint.
    Anyone who knew him, knew of his heart of gold. He will be sorely missed.

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