Growing Pains at CommTek Publishing; David G. Wolford's Idaho-Based Publishing Company for the Satellite TV Industry Isn't Small Potatoes

Article excerpt

Relocating an entire company, including over 80 staff members, 150 miles west, over the mountains from Hailey to Boise, Idaho this past June was no easy task for Comm Tek Publishing. But then, 47-year-old founder and president David G. Wolford is not one to be put off by such challenges.

Although he considered a few other locations, Wolford's love of the outdoors and his passion for Idaho are keeping him in-state--despite growth that is propelling the company into publishing's mainstream.

Comm Tek, publisher of five magazines and one newsletter, and producers of ancillary products and trade shows in the burgeoning home satellite television industry, was number 23 and the highest-ranking publisher on last December's Inc. 500 listing of the fastest-growing, small, privately held companies in the United States. It showed an annual growth rate of 4,444 percent over five years, and 1983 revenues of about 5 million. Last year's revenues were 15 million. Wolford expects 1985 revenues to top 20 million. And now although the rate of growth has tapered off somewhat, the growing pains have not.

The decision to move from Hailey (population 3,500) to Boise was a difficult but necessary one. Difficult because the Sun Valley region where Hailey is located was Wolford's much-loved home for 13 years. (During that time ne bought, sold and made a handsome profit on a television cable system and had unlimited access to the area's skiing, hunting and fishing.) Necessary because, as Comm Tek started to grow, transportation in and out of Hailey (mainly via air taxi or chartered planes) was fast becoming expensive and time-consuming; and s taff was hard to recruit. Wolford estimates that airfares and the lost time alone getting in and out of Hailey were running between $150,000 and $200,000 a year. And if a thick fog rolled in, all planes were grounded.

Started with listings guide

It was while he owned the cable system in Sun Valley that Wolford became frustrated at the lack of one comprehensive source listing for all programming available to cable operators via satellite transmission for distribution to home cable audiences. After selling off his cable system in 1979, Wolford started just such a listing, SatGuide, working out of his own home, using a bathroom as a mailing room.

Although SatGuide at firs carried no editorial or advertising--just the listings--it became profitable, through subscription revenues, after only 15 months. Wolford, who had invested somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 of his own money into the guide, was relieved, to say the least. "I'd had nightmares about not making it," he remembers.

Wolford acknowledges that his wife, Kathryn Carmichael Wolford, played a major role in developing all the CommTek magazines. She was publisher of SatGuide magazine and held various positions, including associate publisher and creative director, on CommTek magazines. She also set up publishing systems and sold ads in the beginning.

Second launch

Wolford launched Satellite Orbit, a monthly consumer guide to satellite television entertainment, in 1982. Its circulation--already more than 200,000 paid--will climb to 500,000 within two years because of the rapidly growing number of home satellite receiving equipment installations, predicts CommTek general manager Lee Keck.

SPACE, the industry's lobbying group, says sales of satellite equipment, or "earth stations," doubled in 1985's first half as compared with the same period last year. Some predict that there will be 1.2 million home installations by the end of this year, and over 10 million "dishes" in use by 1990. Price for equipment and installation has come down from well over $10,000 a few years ago to an average of between $1,500 and $2,500. And Federal legislation passed in 1984 upheld the legality of earth stations, opening the way for the market's expansion.

At first used mostly by rural families who wanted clear reception and a greater choice in television programming, dishes are now beginning to appear in more populated areas, in hotels, condominiums, restaurants and even private suburban homes. …