Why do they call it that? Home Shopping Network history: HSN began with can openers in Clearwater

11:20 AM, Nov 28, 2012   |    comments
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Click here for more installments of "Why Do They Call It That?"

It's a TV network beamed from Tampa Bay into 96 million homes, and it all started with some can openers in Clearwater.

Each Wednesday this month, we've told you about something amazing your neighbors have created.

They're famous around the world, but they got their start right here in Tampa Bay. You may be surprised, and you'll definitely be impressed.

Why do they call it HSN?

Crisp high definition images, an army of well-trained operators taking calls, and three shipping centers spread across the U.S.

If you'd have told Bobbi Ray Carter this was her future, she might have charmingly, politely laughed you right out of the room.

"We had absolutely no idea what this was going to be, what this industry would morph into. No concept at all," said Carter, who is the longest running host at HSN.

She joined the home shopping super-company almost 30 years ago, when they nicknamed her "Bubblin' Bobbi Ray."

"When I started, it was radio and television. It was all you, and you never knew what the products were gonna be. And it was this really fabulous mixture of clothing and home and dolls and you name it!" Carter said.

"People had to go pick up their purchases. Drove over and picked up their product, and went home."

It's like Hollywood

Today, it's 24 hours. Truly nonstop.

Seven studios sit on HSN's 50-plus acre campus in northern St. Petersburg. When one is live on the air, others are getting stripped down and swapped out.

Of HSN's 4,500 workers nationwide, more than half are in St. Pete. These folks create, build, and then remove hundreds of different studio sets each month!

"We have teams of people behind the scenes that work nonstop," said Bill Brand, HSN's executive vice president in charge of programming, marketing, and business development.

"A whole team of hosts, producers -- you can only imagine what it takes to keep something like this going nonstop.

"There's always that surprise. You come through the gates, and you're like, 'Wow! This could be a studio in Hollywood!' Because that's what we do. We have the same core competencies that studios do in Hollywood."

It is a stunning change from Bobbi Ray's early days.

"We had a small studio, and behind me there was a little hole in the wall," Carter said.

"You would -- in between items -- you'd get down, you'd crawl through the hole, you'd go back, you'd get your item, you'd bring your item out, you'd set it up, you'd talk about it.

"You'd sell it, then you would wait for people to call, and then you would write down the order. So, literally, one stop -- I mean, we did it all!"

The next big idea

HSN's number one best-selling product of all time. What do you think it is?

Nope. It's the Huggable Hanger -- a soft, thin clothes hanger sold in a rainbow of colors. Invented by an entrepreneur, HSN has sold nearly half a billion of them.

It's success stories like this that remind the folks at HSN that -- much like the creation of the network itself -- you never know where that next great idea is going may come from.

"Bud Paxson actually owned a radio station. And some of his people couldn't pay him, so they paid him... in can openers. Gave him like 115 'stunning' avocado green can openers," Carter said. "And he was like, 'Well, what am I going to do with these?'"

"So, basically, he gave them to the DJ. The DJ went on the air -- on the radio -- and sold them. And [Paxson] went -- cha ching! Light bulb! From there, it was all his idea."

Decades before Amazon and eBay -- when shopping from home meant filling out a form in the back of a Sears catalog -- Bud Paxson and Roy Speer put their crazy new concept on television from a shopping center in Clearwater.

It was 1982.

Changing names

"We started off as the Suncoast Bargaineers! And then we went from that to Home Shopping Club, which we were for many, many years with the little 'house' logo," Carter remembered.

As they went nationwide, Home Shopping Club gave way to Home Shopping Network.

"Then about ten years ago, changed into HSN," Carter said.

And HSN is now an internet and cable superstar shown in 96 million households. All of it, built by your neighbors here in Tampa Bay.

"If you're flying on an airplane coming into Tampa, chances are you're flying in with celebrities or brand personalities that are coming in to do business," Brand said.

"HSN guests that are coming here to be able to tell their stories."

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

All November, "Why do they call it that?" focused on famous things that got their start in Tampa Bay.

Check out other stories from the series and previous editions of this Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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