In July 1981, I had lunch with Byron who published a local cable television guide because I had a proposition for him. I asked for $300 a week to provide editorial content for his listings grid. He would hire me full-time in February 1982 and fire me that May when his magazine went under, but until then, I submitted articles. He published them all, and paid me very slowly. I should have taken that as a danger sign, to just keep my day job and do this writing on the side, but I wanted to leave my administration job at the Associated Press. It was a dead end.
At the end of the year, I met with the Tube staff in Chesterfield County, a 21-mile commute from my condo in Highland Springs, and Byron said I could start full time there in mid-February. I drove home feeling an elation like never before. I put in my notice.
The phone rang all day with women applying for my job. My boss, probably the best one I ever had, Bob Gallimore, hired Carol, a cheerful young blonde, to replace me, the daughter of a journalist, and the wife of a city planner. She had a master’s degree in geography. I spent the first week of February training her. By the second week, she had mastered the job, so Gallimore let me quit a day early after a cake and champagne party. It was very awkward. Gallimore gave me a desk nameplate, which I never used. I never had a job where I could have my name on the front of a desk, and my name wouldn’t always be Mariane Watkins.
I wanted things done right at Tube, like I had learned working at the newspaper, but by the second week, the art department – which was two people, Tom and Ellen – told me to butt out. They were also working on MaxPak, discount coupon books, another project owned by Byron, and it got priority since it brought in more money. My days off were Friday and Saturday since Sunday was production day.
I went to Kings Dominion with the paste-up staff for a press tour of a new roller coaster, rode it five times and ate free steaks, but the fun day out didn’t bond me with Tom and Ellen and the battles over designing Tube continued. We took a brief time out from fighting when Tom's mother died on a production Sunday and he got the news.
In April, I drove to Virginia Beach for a cablevision meeting on local origination broadcasting and to hear John Coleman speak, the former "Good Morning America" weatherman who started the Weather Channel. Back at the office, the staff actually gave me flowers for my birthday and Byron presented me with a $1,000 Selectric typewriter, since I had been using my own little electric typewriter.
I went to a luncheon and press preview of a magic show at Busch Gardens in April. I was courted by the park officials with drinks, cheese and crackers and met Mark Wilson, a magician I had watched and loved on TV as a child. Although the magician who actually did the show was not Mark Wilson, Mark Wilson had trained him, and Wilson himself came out for a couple of tricks at the end and tossed me his magic rope when he was done. I was so thrilled!
But Tube was losing money and Byron wanted me to cut back on the amount of print I set in type, since back then you had to use an outside typesetter who charged by the inch.
I was going to evening meetings of the Henrico County cable TV committee, being a reporter with the other reporters. But then Byron cut back the number of pages in Tube and dropped the syndicated material, the crossword puzzle, soap opera news, horoscope, and sports schedule, all the things people actually liked about the magazine. A story I did about illegal satellite dishes got a satellite dish salesman mad, and that got Byron mad at me. Byron laid off the part-time paste-up assistant and the ad salesman quit, leaving just Byron to sell ads.
I was fired on May 18, my husband's birthday. It was a great job, except for the people, and lasted three months. On my last paste-up Sunday, the TV listings never came. I waited five hours at the post office before I gave up. Monday, I was still covering stories, watching Congressman Tom Bliley pull the switch to put C-Span on the air, and meeting with Continental Cable officials about story ideas. The upcoming issue would have been my best work yet; a whole page of letters to the editor had come in, I had stories about a puppet show coming to town and a local access exercise show. But when I came to work Thursday, Ellen in paste-up said Byron was cutting the magazine back eight pages so all my stuff was out. Don't bother to send it to the typesetter.
I drove out to the airport to pick up the TV listings, which had been flown in special delivery. Things were tense when I got back to the office. Finally Byron called me in and said his wife, the company accountant who had been out on maternity leave, finally got the account books updated and they had lost a lot of money. If Continental Cable didn’t buy Tube from him the next day, I should be prepared to pack up my desk.
I came to work the next day but did nothing, just waited. Byron came back at 5 p.m. after everyone else had left and went into his office without speaking to me and called his lawyer. I started clearing out my desk. Byron finally came out and said Continental did not want to buy the magazine and he was losing too much money on it. He stood over me while I finished packing to make sure I didn’t take anything that wasn’t mine. The Times-Dispatch and News Leader were thrilled to get the rights to our TV listings grid since it was better than the one they were using. They bought it immediately. I tried to pitch them on the idea of taking me, too, to do the same kind of cable television coverage I had been doing for Tube, but they said they had their own staff people for that.
I learned later Byron never really made any money on Tube and barely any on MaxPak because the initial start-up money for the first year was an investment from his father-in-law. When he ran through that, the game was over. He never knew when to put the brakes on. He should have kept the syndicated material and never hired me full time. He wasted money printing a disposable weekly TV listings guide on high quality glossy paper, and not just the cover, all the inside pages, too. It was so frustrating that people who did not know how to manage money or run a paper would get these opportunities. Someone else would take the MaxPak idea, call it ValPack, and it would live forever.