James Yates Davidson, last surviving founding pioneer of cable television, hooked up first subscriber in October 1948 at Tuckerman, Arkansas, passed away quietly at his home on October 21, 2012 at age 90.
World War II Veteran, James Yates Davidson was born January 2, 1922 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was a respected, honest, caring, generous, self-educated, man who was orphaned at the age of eight and denied the advantage of a high school education. He lived with his maternal grandmother and two small sisters in Cabot, Arkansas on $20 a month, until she passed away when he was thirteen years old. Nevertheless, he was a “get things done” kinda guy, read voraciously to better educate himself and worked in a variety of trades, excelling in all of his pursuits. To name a few: electronics expert, photographer, commercial artist, writer and publisher, theater manager at age 16, self-taught airplane pilot, self-taught Coast Guard Captain, self-taught drummer and played drums and harmonica in two of his own bands, and played harmonica in several featurettes for Warner Brothers during WWII. Following his semi-retirement in the 1970’s, he became a successful designer, manufacturer and wholesaler of jewelry and gemstones, supplying many jewelry stores, even helped to open a few stores from scratch. He was a member of the Jewelers’ Board of Trade from 1976-1980 with the highest rating of 31. He and his wife, Janet loved travel and adventure and enjoyed many places, traveled by practically every mode of travel and met many interesting people in their blessed happy life together. They also designed and supervised the construction of a 70’ ocean-class yacht and also designed and supervised the construction of their final home, which is a very large mostly underground home/library/museum.
The pinnacle of his career, however, was as a pioneer and developer of the cable television industry. He built his first small experimental cable TV system (first called Community Antenna and was one of the first systems in the country) in Tuckerman, Arkansas, where he connected his first paying subscriber (the Carl Toler family) in October 1948. He was the owner of DAVCO ELECTRONICS CORPORATION (the first cable TV supermarket in the industry) in Batesville, Arkansas and built a number of cable systems all over the South and had customers in all of the lower 48 states. He also built the first Rhombic television antenna for cable TV in Batesville, Arkansas. It took a lot of engineering (in which he was also self-taught) to build, and was very large and spread out over several acres. He developed the best electronic head-end for cable TV which he called the “Function Design Head-end”. Jimmy was the first to add five channels to cable TV when everyone else said it was impossible. He helped fight the FCC in the 1970’s to save cable television from being overregulated. He also saved several cable customers whose cable systems were going under; by flying equipment to them, issuing them credit until they could get back on their feet and by supervising them on how to stay in business. Through his unselfishness, integrity, honesty and friendliness, he became lifelong friends with many cable operators and had the respect of the cable industry, as well as anyone else he did business with. He was friends with the TV station managers and employees in Little Rock as well as Memphis, Tennessee (WMCT) whose was the first signal he received on his cable systems.
Jimmy organized the Arkansas Cable Association, the Ozark CATV Association, the Missouri Cable Association and the South Central and Southern Cable Associations, was an original member of NCTA and received the Outstanding Committee Performance Award as Director of the Independent Operators’ Board of NCTA, helped organize CATA and was a Charter member of the Tower Club. Jimmy received the J.Y. Davidson Award in Arkansas and the Morris Dunn Award in Mississippi for Cable Television. He was also the first advertiser and Honorary Editor of TV Communication Magazine.
Jimmy hooked up cable television for the late Governor Winthrop Rockefeller on Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas and for the Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
Jimmy is honored in The National Cable Center at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado and his cable history is in their permanent museum archives. He is also honored in the Batesville History Museum and the Tuckerman History Museum (Trail to Tuckerman), the Lonoke History Museum, and the Highway 67 Rock and Roll Highway Museum. His name is also inscribed on the Smithsonian National Aviation and Space Exploration Wall of Honor at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington, D.C.
During World War II, Jimmy Davidson was supervisor of a Signal Corps section, where he was in charge of maintenance of aircraft radio and electronics equipment for 16 months. He was issued a Citation for no aircraft being grounded due to electronics failure. He also received a Citation for inventing a part to improve earphones for pilots. Immediately following his Signal Corps duty, he joined the United States Navy, where he served for two years until the end of World War II and was awarded a Good Conduct medal. Following his honorable discharge in February of 1946, he immediately became a licensed aircraft pilot with commercial, instrument and multi-engine ratings that he received without any formal training. He flew in conjunction with his cable business and for pleasure for 50 years of flying and about 16,000 hours.
Jimmy was a member of AOPA since 1946 for which he received 50 and 60 years certificates and pins, was a Lifetime Member of the Arkansas Aviation Historic Society, a member of the Confederate Air Force, a lifetime member and certified Goodfellow of the Quiet Birdmen Association of America (QB’s). He held a Part 135 Certificate for an Air Taxi Service.
James Y. Davidson was a humanitarian and was active in civic affairs and civic clubs, was a Shriner and 32nd degree Mason. He actively supported the Shriner’s Childrens Hospitals. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Little Rock and in 1998 he was awarded the Masonic 50 year gold pin. He was also a Lifetime Member of the American Legion. He earned a 50 years status in 1997 at the Kirkpatrick Lodge No. 192, which merged with the Jackson Lodge #191 at Newport.
Jimmy wrote two books on Hurricane Camille: “Camille, She Was No Lady” and “Camille, One Year Later” as well as publications for Cable Television and his autobiography.
In 1988, he was honored with a party for the 50th year of his first cable subscriber hookup and was honored in the High Profile of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. He has also been honored in many other publications. He is an Arkansas Traveler and an Honorary Citizen of New Orleans and Founding Member of the World War II Museum in New Orleans. He helped purchase the Reagan Ranch (Rancho del Cielo) in 1998 to help preserve and carry forward President Ronald Reagan’s Legacy for future generations.
James Yates Davidson is survived by his beloved wife of 42 years, Janet Marie (Gill) Davidson. He is also survived by two sons, James E. Davidson and wife, Joanne of Hot Springs Village and R. Vaiden Holmes and wife, Karen of Conway; one daughter, Sheila Denise Harrison and husband, David of Bryant; four grandsons, James Robert Cord Davidson and wife, Dana of Batesville, Christopher Yates Davidson and wife, Corey of Bella Vista, R. Vaiden Holmes, III (Trey) of Little Rock and Vaiden Joseph Holmes of Conway; four granddaughters, Candice Rene’ Hill and husband, Robert of Benton, Ashley Harrison of Fayetteville, Kelli Guidry and husband, Sonny of Denham Springs, Louisiana and Kaci Miller and husband, Chris of Conway; three great grandsons, Grady Yates Davidson and Archer Benjamin Davidson of Bella Vista and Ephraim Alexander Hill of Benton; three great granddaughters, Victoria Davidson of Batesville, Madelyn D’Shea Guidry of Denham Springs, Lousiana and Evelyn Grace Hill of Benton, as well as many nieces, nephews and lifetime friends.
Jimmy was preceded in death by his loving parents, Ellie Yates Davidson and Alice Naomi Davidson and his two sisters, Dorothy Davidson Miller and Norma Jeanne Davidson Fitzhugh.
Visitation will be from 4:00-8:00 p.m., Friday, October 26, 2012 at James Y. Davidson’s home, 611 Quail Trail, Cabot, Arkansas, where you can view this remarkable man’s history, including many pictures, plaques, albums and other memorabilia of his interesting and productive life. Funeral services will be 10:00 a.m., Saturday, October 27, 2012 at Moore’s Cabot Funeral Home. Jimmy will be laid to rest at the Evans Cemetery in Cabot. Arrangements by Moore’s Cabot Funeral Home, (501)843-5816. Please sign our online guestbook at www.moorescabotfuneralhome.com.