30 Years In Business

With today’s remnants of Hurricane Ophelia as a good reminder, this weekend marks the 30th year I’ve been in the aerials business. I can’t say for sure what date I started, but know it was just a couple of months before Michael Fish’s infamous clanger, when the Oct ’87 storm made Sevenoaks into ‘One-Oak’!

At this stage, it feels right to summarise what I’ve been doing for more than half of my life. From Saturday boy to professional business owner with an outdoor office I never tire of. Here’s my story (so far).

Still a paint sprayer by trade, I dabbled with aerials as a Saturday job for my best mate’s elder brother. He’d been fitting TV aerials since the early seventies.

With the start of Murdoc’s ‘Sky Channel’ moving from a commercial hotel service into a domestic home service called Sky TV, the TV aerial industry was about to see the biggest change since 425 line black and white changed to colour. Bigger in fact!

The first Sky TV install

I remember it vividly. I should have had an idea of how this guy worked there and then but I was a bit naïve and probably too engrossed on seeing this satellite thing work to worry about how he approached the job (professionalism was never his priority!).

With a doodle on a scrap of paper indicating roughly where the satellite was and the tiniest compass from a Christmas cracker (I kid you not!) we spent two hours arguing which way the dish should point before spending another hour trying to find out why we could not get a signal on the TV. Oh, did I mention we didn’t have a satellite meter?

This was guesswork at its best! I can’t believe I stuck with it…

After managing to prove that he was reading the bloody compass backwards, we took the dish down and refitted it on the other side of the house and pointed it 180 degrees from where we had started! (Boss 0 – Dave 1). Almost five hours later, we left our first satellite customer with a sixteen channel ‘non remote control’ Sky TV box ‘The Amstrad SRX100’ and handful of FREE sky channels. Free Sky?! Not a phrase you hear these days!

Becoming a partner of 1a Aerials

Moving on a bit, to where I actually had the right test meters, my own van and a full time job, we had two more lads working for us and business was expanding. Continuing to push for more professionalism, I became a 50/50 partner in 1991 and was pretty determined to raise our game by taking on larger and more prestigious work.

I kept splashing out on the latest test equipment and pushing quality installations, whilst my partner seemed to try his best to undo my hard work, continuing to do things by guesswork with the cheapest possible materials and complete lack of customer service

Still doing most climbs without securing our ladders to anything apart from using a bit of scrap coax cable round customer’s gutters, my brave/stupid gland used to get a bloody good workout on a daily basis. But hell, that was how I was ‘trained’. Plus health and safety regulations hadn’t yet reached the aerial industry.

Time to be my own boss

We spent a while pretty much doing our own separate thing under the same company banner until in 1997, when we’d had enough and I bought him out to save the company name and all the hard work I’d put in over the years.

I couldn’t afford it but I sold my car, drained my savings and borrowed money from a friend to make up the shortfall Suddenly, I was the sole owner of a business with three employees (new underwear please!).

There was some falling out and legal handbags at dawn after the split which I won’t bore you with, short of saying it wasn’t the smoothest transaction and I learned a good lesson in trust. My family, friends, Sal and particularly my accountant couldn’t believe my determination. Support I appreciated later down the line.

Doings things properly

Within a few months of taking over in 1997, I applied to join the Confederation of Aerial Industries and soon had my pre-membership inspection. Tim Jenks (now the Senior Executive of the CAI & due to retire next year) whom I came to know well and is still a good friend, sat in my lounge and offered me two things before the inspection began.

Firstly, he asked me to close the business and come and work for them! Unbeknownst to me, my local equipment supplier had contacted his fellow scouse cousin Les, who was at the time on the CAI board of directors and must have been saying something nice about my work (Les is now the CAI chairman).

I had employees, loyal customers and ambitions so being put on the spot, I respectfully declined.

Secondly, Tim said, if I don’t take the job and my inspection is passed, my local supplier had nominated me for a position on the CAI board. In response to which my first question was,

What the hell is a board of directors and what does it entail?!

I got the full rundown and was duly elected to the board in the November of ’97.

Developing aerial industry standards

I spent the next nine years between the road and the boardroom, requiring a shave and a tie to drive down to Wembley and Watford every six to eight weeks.

I was heavily involved in decision making for the reception industry throughout the transition from analogue to digital TV. The best time to have been there to be honest.

Re-elected every three years without challenge, I was honoured to be involved in ‘Safe working at heights with ladders’ training which is now an industry standard.

Also close to my heart, was the standardisation and policing of quality antennas and coax cables for the digital future. Still an essential part of my every day work, the CAI Aerial & Cable Benchmarking Scheme ensures installers now know exactly what a product can and more importantly, cannot do. It’s a shame this is still a sticking point with most electricians and developers, who aren’t up to date with these guidelines.

So why only nine years on the board? Well, in 2010 Sal & I moved from the Wirral to Pembrokeshire to start a new chapter of our life and the main factor was travel and commitment to the CAI from this far West.

As a sole trader, being a member of a volunteer board of directors is a fair commitment and as a not for profit organisation, most of us never put in for any expenses. We all believed in it enough to give our time freely and I’m still proud to be a paid up systems installer member.

Pembrokeshire and beyond

Before we moved here, all I knew about technology in Pembrokeshire was that the internet didn’t work! I didn’t know much about computer networks but had been on an invite only training course for ‘Internet via Satellite’ the month before we moved. It was a no brainer and I was amongst the first CAI trained satellite broadband installers in the UK, ready to start getting people online as soon as we landed here.

Since then, I’ve honed my skills and training to expand from TV and satellite antenna systems to all sorts of integrated TV/data systems for homes and hotels, caravan park and holiday let WiFi, fixed wireless internet schemes. I’m also working with CCTV again, following the evolution of full HD digital surveillance systems.

So here we are thirty years on the tools… We’re still in the same house since moving here, but I’ve been through one van, three drills, one meter, two cats and I still have Sal (I’ve tried everything but they just won’t take her as a trade in!).

It’s not often people say they genuinely love their job and I’m pleased to confirm I’m one of them.

So bring it on 2018, I’m proud to have been doing this job thirty years now and I’m not going anywhere soon.

Take a look at some of the projects I’ve worked on since 1987.