Canadian cable pioneer Israel “Sruki” Switzer, who built and consulted on cable systems from the U.S. to Hong Kong and New Zealand during the 1970s and 1980s, died Wednesday of a heart attack at his winter home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 87.
His death was confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter by David Kines, president and co-founder of Canadian cable channel Hollywood Suite. Switzer built parts of then-Falcon Cable TV, the Los Angeles-based cable system founded by Marc Nathanson and sold to Charter Communications in 1999, and the Virginia Cable system near Washington, D.C., for then Media General Cable.
Born June 29, 1929, in Calgary, Alberta, Switzer also built parts of David Graham’s then-cable company Cablecasting Ltd., including a system in Chicago. That was after Switzer, as an engineer, pioneered Canadian cable during the 1950s when viewers accessed U.S. TV stations in Seattle, Detroit and Buffalo using rooftop antennas.
Switzer, as an engineer drilling for oil in 1958, changed businesses to build an early cable system in Saskatchewan to access cross-border U.S. TV signals. Famous Players, then a division of Paramount, was an investor in his company, CableVision.
Other cable systems followed, including in Alberta, with Switzer joining then Maclean Hunter Cable in Toronto in 1967 as its first employee. He made his biggest mark in Canadian TV when he and his first wife, the late journalist Phyllis Switzer, founded Toronto TV station City-TV, using a low-power UHF signal, rather than a VHF signal, to secure a TV license.
As a young man, Switzer’s hobbies included being an amateur photographer and a private pilot, and his interest in technology continued after retirement as he built custom computers for friends and family. Switzer is survived by his wife, Bryna and his children Jay Switzer, former president and CEO of Canadian broadcaster Chum Ltd.; Chiara and Sharon.
Switzer will be buried in Calgary on Monday.