The unusual fight started when two groups applied to the Dubuque City Council for a franchise to operate a community television system.
In "fringe" areas where television reception is weak due to geographical barriers such as mountains, this new method of television reception has provided a solution.
In most communities, only one company generally has applied for a franchise. In the case of Dubuque, however, the Dubuque Cable Corporation, composed of several local businessmen, decided to install a system manufactured in Massachusetts, and a second company, Dubuque Jerrold Television Cable Corporation, headed by Mr. Shapp, also applied. Iowa law requires that franchises of this type be decided at public referenda.
The Dubuque City Council appointed a firm of consulting electronic engineers to sift all the claims made by the competing applicants. The engineers made detailed comparisons of all equipment produced by competing manufacturers and studied operations of many community antenna systems. Their report read to the Dubuque City Council clearly substantiated the claims of the Jerrold group. They stated that the best interests of the people of Dubuque would be served by awarding the franchise to Jerrold.
Fireworks began when the City Council rejected the report of their engineers and awarded a franchise to the local group. Mr. Shapp decided to take the issue to the people.
The Jerrold public relations campaign to win this election had three major vehicles:
- Local publicity and advertising utilizing the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, the only daily newspaper in the city; the Dubuque Standard, the weekly labor newspaper; and radio stations WDBO and KDTH.
- Publicity in the Des Moines Register, the state's largest newspaper.
- National publicity in newspapers and magazines read in the Dubuque area.
Jerrold was an "outside" company.
The local group had the backing of the City Council, the largest company in the city (Dubuque Meat Packing Company), and the local labor newspaper.
The local newspaper also owned a local radio station and was not in the television field.
It was difficult for a layman to understand the technical engineering aspects involved in community television systems.
Further, a vote for Jerrold was a "no" vote, traditionally more difficult to obtain than a "yes" vote. In addition, the referendum was worded in such a manner that voters were asked to decide about granting a franchise to the local company. If the majority voted "no," then a second special election would be held to vote on the Jerrold franchise application. The second election would require a "yes" vote for Jerrold to win.
Mr. Shapp went to Dubuque a month before the election and personally rang doorbells, distributed literature on street corners, in barber shops and other public places, and, in general, carried his story directly to the people. He became a familiar sight and was recognized by a large button which he wore reading "Ask me, I'm Jerrold."
An abandoned FM tower was located in a neighborhood known as St. Catherine's. Special TV receiving antennas were installed on this tower, dubbed "ST. Catherine's," and the tower was hooked up to several television sets in the building. It quickly became a popular place for people to visit to see the reception possible by means of a master antenna.
Cooperation was enlisted from the television dealers, and meetings were held to explain to them the business advantages of installing hookups to the community system. Since several members of the local cable company were television dealers, it also was explained that these dealers might use the community antenna system to their advantage in selling TV sets, thus tending to create a possible monopoly on the sale of sets in Dubuque. Fourteen of Dubuque's leading TV dealers signed petitions and ads supporting Jerrold. One dealer made hundreds of phone calls on behalf of Jerrold.
Cooperation was enlisted of parochial school teachers, nuns, and prominent Catholics because of the predominantly Catholic population of the city.
Cooperation was obtained from other prominent citizens including the president of the League of Women Voters. This group distributed a considerable amount of literature and played an important part in the election campaign.
Close liaison was set up with the newspaper, particularly with the publisher. A telegram was sent by the competing antenna company charging the paper with publishing libelous and "scurrilous misstatements of fact." The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald published this telegram on its front page along with its reply telegram which "presumed the wire to be meaningless and for publicity purposes." The two telegrams were published on page one under the headline "No that point on, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald took an extremely active part in the campaign and solidly endorsed Jerrold.
Jerrold rented the Eagle's Hall for a public discussion. Representatives of the local franchise applicant declined an invitation to attend. A "standing room only" crowd heard Mr. Shapp present a comparison of costs and other factors involved in the conflict. A full scale debate was held to an overflow enthusiastic audience.
The local publicity campaign consisted of almost daily front page stories in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. A heavy advertising schedule, consisting of daily full page and smaller insertions, had two objectives:
- To shock and arouse voters.
- To support Jerrold.
The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, in a front page editorial the following day, stated: "Thumbs down, it was a stinging defeat for the City Council that vote of 6,610 to 1,537. The people turned out in record numbers to give an emphatic veto to mistaken council policy.