Late 1950’s with Ivan Berger

Ivan Berger is a chronicler of the Audio Industry and a Leading Consumer Electronics and Technology Journalist in the CE Hall of Fame. Since he began his career as a tech writer in 1962, he has had the opportunity to hear and experience a lot of equipment. I pestered him for some memories and he was gracious enough to indulge my questions. The full interview will be posted on the site, but I was so charmed by one answer I am posting it here, too. I asked Mr. Berger for his memories of audio in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Early Hi Fi   by Ivan Berger

“Hi-Fi” became a buzzword in the ’50s (there was even a “High Fidelity” lipstick!), but most home audio came from table radios, portable phonographs, or radio/phono consoles.  Components were becoming available, but dealers were about as scarce as they’ve become today. Everything was tube, and everything was mono–though, by the late ’50s you could get “binaural” tuners (FM on one channel, AM on the other) and two-channel amplifiers (The first such amp I saw was a Bell–not from Bell Labs but from a maker of PA equipment).  Emery Cook had binaural LPs, tracked with a forked arm that held two cartridges, but I never saw one until it had long since become a curiosity.  

Ampex and Magnecord made two-channel tape recorders, but they were priced for professionals.  The Magnecord PT6-BN had a three-head setup, with a full-track erase head and separate half-track record/play heads for the left and right channels–that meant the tracks were staggered, one leading the other by about an inch, which must have made editing quite difficult.  My own first recorder was a mono PT6, but I later acquired a binaural head assembly for it, flipping one r/p head so both covered the same track. (I think the Ampex had stacked heads.)  My intent was to feed the output from that head to a separate preamp, so I could monitor off the tape, but I never got around to it. 

Lafayette made a preamp (designed by Stew Hegeman, I believe) that, as I recall, had separate left and right source selectors and stacked, clutched, volume controls, so you could also use it to feed two different sources to different rooms.  

The Lafayette preamp also had adjustable phono EQ (switch-selectable turnover and rolloff settings), as did the first Heathkit preamp I owned (The preamp had no power supply, getting power from the amp via an umbilical cable with an octal plug [same as an octal tube base]; this was a common arrangement at the time.). That was because, until everyone adopted the RIAA EQ curve, every record company used its own curve.  

My own first foray into audio was circa 1950, when I bought a 45-rpm changer to plug into the back of our RCA TV; later, we got a three-speed Webcor changer.  When i finally learned about tracking force, I bought a gauge which went up to about 8 grams; after setting the Webcor to the lighter of its two settings, it bottomed the gauge with a “Clunk!”  

Next, I changed the TV’s 8″ speaker to a Lafayette SK-98, a $10 item with a hardened center section to radiate highs better.  The TV provided an enclosure, of sorts, with the sides, front, and top boxed in but the back and bottom open.  Later, I got a tiny $15 reflex enclosure from Lafayette, and bought my first amp, a 10-watt Realistic–just a chassis with tubes up top and knobs in front. Later, I built a 25-watt Heathkit amp and the preamp I mentioned above.

In 1958, my college roommates and I decided to build a stereo system, with each of us buying separate components so that we’d have no problems of ownership when we split up.  The system included a Fairchild turntable, arm, and cartridge, an H.H. Scott binaural tuner and binaural preamp, Dynakit amps (one was my contribution)–I forget which speakers.  

A friend two flights below us had a Klipschorn and a 10-watt Pilot amp.  It had an adjustable loudness control, so its compensation could be based on the volume settings you actually used (which would depend on your speakers, room, and preferences) rather than the manufacturer’s guess. Skip liked a lot of bass, so I not only turned his bass control up full but maximized the loudness compensation–and used a ceramic cartridge (which required no EQ), feeding the RIAA input (which added still more bass boost).  The resulting bass was hardly realistic, but sure was impressive.

When we split up, I bought my first component turntable, a Weathers, selected because it was the cheapest decent one around.  It had a very light, stamped-aluminum platter, which enabled it to be driven by an electric-clock motor (as synchronous as you could get), via a soft idler wheel which could be left permanently pressed between the spindle and platter, because it did not permanently deform.  (More heavy-duty turntables required stiff rubber idlers, which would develop flat spots if you did not release them when the platter stopped–many turntables therefore built that function into the on-off switch.)  I mounted a Dynaco/B&O arm/cartridge combo, which could track at an amazingly low 2 grams.

(The turntable I had fancied before that was a Stromberg-Carlson.  It was very advanced for its time, with belt drive and three-point subframe suspension, long before the AR turntable, and a unipivot arm. S-C made conventional consoles, with everything built in, but when the started making components, they offered consoles with slots you could drop their components into, giving you a choice of amps, and maybe other stuff. )

 I bought a Dynakit mono preamp, and a used r/j enclosure, designed for an 8″ Wharfedale.  Later, I bought another r/j, complete with Wharfedale driver, and later still a second Wharfedale driver to replace my Lafayette.  They were good speakers, but their foam surrounds crumbled after a few years.  I also added an Eico FM tuner, with magic-eye tuning indicator built into the dial pointer.

When stereo came in, there were a lot of patchwork adaptations: Dynaco and others left space in their tuners for whatever stereo decoder the FCC might decide on, and there were gadgets designed to add stereo source selection, volume, and balance, to paired mono systems. (Marantz made them, among others.)       To be continued…

The full interview with Ivan Berger will be posted soon

Check out the CE Hall of Fame. For a little consumer ‘headphone review’ history, read the first article on audio by Ivan Berger: “In Both Ears”  Saturday Review, July 28, 1962. Great chart of headphones available at the time.

Undercover Peavey

Last Sunday an episode of Undercover Boss featured Peavey Electronics. I love manufacturing plants and Peavey has been around forever. I actually looked forward to seeing this show.

I would like to unsee it. That was a sad show from a number of viewpoints.

It is very telling that the COO felt the need to get into disguise so he can see what his own plant is doing ON TV. I would like to point out that the opportunity to go in to the plant and speak to real people exists every day. And by that I mean EVERY DAY! You have to have an audience?

It was a little creepy to watch Hartley Peavey sit in a big fancy bus and bark commands, viewing people in the plant like bizarre oddities and completely missing the real obstacles (like communication!) Don’t look at real solutions, that would be too painful. Pick three people and douse them with a large (for them) token (for you) sum of money. Nothing changes, but three people appear to benefit in the short term. Very short, as they started dumping employees four months later. Nice. Even worse, the Peavey Facebook page from 2/15/15 says all promises are being fulfilled. Not were fulfilled. Are being. Weasel words. This show was taped months ago.

They also skip over the massive off-shoring as a “business decision.” That it may be, but it turns out that there are many more factors that should be considered to make a considered decision. These limited decisions have impacted many of our communities, our country, and our competitiveness in the world. We are just now figuring that out; blindly sending manufacturing to China is no longer cutting-edge. Thinking it through is.

The bean counter (my apologies. The Harvard MBA) making these “business decisions” certainly did not take into account (or even seem to realize) the way a working factory works. Manufacturing has a problem, people from different departments jump in and work it out. That is one of the things I love best about factories.

The decision makers also didn’t see the problem-solving relationships that develop with local vendors, nor how the local vendors sharing information helped other companies grow and improve. In my audio history research it is amazing how much creativity is stimulated by the free flow of people actually working together – and making friends, hanging out. Let’s be honest – our industry has achieved a lot of things inspired by listening to good music on a good system, or live events. So many of the people in our industry are musicians I now would find it unusual to find one of us with no musical background.

In a news report from the Clarion-Ledger  on October 7 2014 when  layoffs were announced, Mr. Peavey said several telling things.

““I’ve told a succession of people here that one of the problems we have here is we can’t find skilled people,” Peavey said.” Really? You had 8 working plants and employed 3000 people at one time. What happened to all of those people?

Peavey received a grant in 2010 from the Mississippi Development Authority to help protect jobs from overseas competition. Protect jobs. In the article Mr. Peavey said those funds helped pay for new air conditioners for Plant 3, where Peavey makes graphite fabric guitars.

The 2014 report also said that Peavey will have 270 people still employed after the layoff.

For more of Hartley Peavey’s views on economics see his open letter posted at Meridean Tea Party website.

From the unsophisticated cabinet shop to the hand-soldered circuit boards, the poor manufacturing processes to the decision to offshore even more product, this company seems to still be living in the past. Audio History!

Warning: if you watch this show there is a scene at the LA showroom where they experience feedback during a showcase for a band. What happens next will make your stomach drop. The feedback continues while someone claims it is a bad mic and the COO gets offended. No one either cares or knows how to fix the situation. Unreal.

Undercover Boss – Peavey Electronics

This is fun, too: Peavey Facebook Page

And Peavey COO official response at Peavey.com 

Just a Phase?

Phase Linear Employees 1973. Courtesy Nissen Collection

Phase Linear Employees 1973. Courtesy Nissen Collection

I received a charming letter from Gene, admin for theCarversite.com. This site is basically an equipment resource for all things Phase Linear/ Carver Corp/ Sunfire.  They also do the Carverfest. They truly celebrate Bob Carver and the equipment produced by companies he started.

At first I thought – some of my friends have pristine samples and unusual prototypes and this might be a good way for them to find someone to truly love and appreciate their old equipment. (I still think that!) I then realized it was also a good opportunity to give a shout out to those companies and to share more of the story with the people that fall in love with the equipment. From my experiences and audio history research I find these companies to be even cooler than they seem from their products.

There are a lot of people between a visionary’s sharp idea and a functioning, out the door product. Sharp ideas take months to prototype, design, and document. Each company had an Engineering Department. Each company had solid, working engineers, designers, drafters.  Several people share patents with Bob.  The Engineering Departments were responsible for helping to capture Bob’s ideas and make them real, safe, and reproducible. Schematics had to be generated, a parts list with vendors, the circuit board laid out. And the mechanical design – chassis drawings, face panel layouts – lots of skill, lots of talented people.

Let’s not forget the factories! From Purchasing, through Receiving/Stores, Supervisors,  Assemblers, and QC Techs into Packaging and Shipping, Admin, Sales, and Service – there were a lot of people that really cared about these companies and the products they were making. And Carver had onsite daycare in the ’80s!

The early Phase Linear, Carver, and Sunfire equipment was built in the USA, hand built by people that actually cared. And rocked! It was not unusual for one guy in a band to get a gig and then bring his buddies in.  It’s the Pacific Northwest, with a band in every garage. Guys gotta eat!

Phase Linear had one of the first solder pots in the Northwest in our industry, inspiring Greg Mackie ( Tapco, Audio Control, Mackie) to invest in one, too. People involved with Phase in the old days ended up enriching the audio world by starting or flowing into other companies: Tapco, Audio Control, Spectro Acoustics, Rane, Symetrix, Magnolia, and more.

All three companies, gone now, still have employee events. Think about that! People get together and enjoy the friendships forged in those early days. I have been to several gatherings and I have had a great time every time. The times were special, but the people were, too. And still are, which is why I have such a good time!

If a lot of old equipment seems magical, I don’t doubt it. There are enormous amounts of talent, care, dedication, friendship, and rockin’ good times in there.

Phase Linear built this building. Original size can be seen as the grey roof on the left. Carver moved in around 1986. Courtesy Nissen Collection

Phase Linear Building. Original size built in 1974 can be seen as the grey roof on the right. The expansion was done winter 1976-1977. Phase moved out end of 1982. Carver Corp moved in around 1986. Courtesy Nissen Collection

 

 

The First Annual CE Pro Masters Awards

By Chuck Schneider

Recognition. It just might be the ultimate high. From that very first Kindergarten star-laden crayon scribble on Mom’s refrigerator to a Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar or Emmy–getting recognized by others for what you do or did feels pretty darned swell.

I’ve been fortunate to have received a number of individual awards over my career in CE and remember every situation in vivid detail. Later on, as a rep principal, I gushed like a soccer mom when one of my staff was recognized by a vendor.

More often than occasionally, lots of deserving folks get overlooked when the award “wood” is handed out. That was the thinking when CE Pro conceived of these awards as a cherry on top of their year-long 20th Anniversary sundae. It was first named “50 over 50” but that was deemed not so original. After much debate it was decided that CE Pro Masters had the right ring.

The criteria were pretty straight forward. CE Pro was looking for career CE folks who’ve moved up the ladder of success over the past several decades and made an honest living. Some of these people intentionally stayed out of the spotlight while others have concentrated on their jobs rather than endless self promotion.

Here they are—the first CE Pro Masters.

Leonard Bellezza, Principal, Lyric Hi-Fi & Video: Leonard and his partner, Dan Mondoro, took over this Manhattan Mecca of high end audio-video from founder Mike Kay in 2004 when it celebrated its 45th anniversary. By then they had been with Lyric for 27 and 20 years respectively. Every custom installer who promotes state-of-the-art components to clients owes a lot to Leonard and other audiophile store owners across the country. If a given piece passes muster at Lyric, it’s good enough for you. The odds are it will offer a fair margin. And it will never be a commodity item.

Charlie Boornazian, Sales Manager, Epson America: In that quandary about whether one should be good at a job or well-liked, Charlie has consistently managed to do both. Coming from specialty retail to a rep firm to the factory level, he’s left his mark everywhere he’s been. After Carver and JBL, Charlie hit his stride at Marantz where he rose to VP while building the brand to a position of prominence. Since departing D&M, Charlie has concentrated on the video business and currently is increasing shelf and ceiling space for Epson.

Paul DiComo, Principal, CE Marketing Pros: In these times, spending over 3 decades with one company should be noticed and noted. Paul left Boston area retail to work as NAD’s first sales manager. From there it was off to Polk Audio where he climbed the ladder to Marketing Manager and oversaw the company through any number of changes. Shortly after Directed Electronics bought both Polk and Definitive Technology, Paul became Senior VP of DefTech. Now, with long time Directed associate Al Ballard, he is a partner at CE Marketing Pros where they weave their market share magic for a myriad of the industry’s leading companies.

Dennis Erskine, Owner, The Erskine Group: No people list of any sort is complete without a true Renaissance Man and that’s just one of the reasons Dennis is a CE Pro Master. Despite being a lifelong classical pianist and a possessing a love of music, Dennis’s CE career is really his second act following his success with numerous Fortune 1000 companies as well as NASA and the Saudi Arabian government. For nearly 20 years now he has worked at a number of custom projects and firms, unpretentiously earning a position of respect that earned him election to the CEDIA Board of Directors. Dennis is also an accomplished pilot.

Mark Friedman, President, The New York Marketing Team: It takes a very special individual to run a big CE rep firm in New York City. But this award goes to Mark in good part because of the career stops he made prior to founding his New York Marketing Team. He brought Bob Carver, kicking and screaming, from niche amplifier designer to national demand brand. He was at JBL when real life actual Harmans roamed the halls. While at Onkyo he was the Gepetto of Integra, the upscale custom spin-off brand many predicted doomed to fail. It is now the de facto business model for creating a wildly successful multi-brand strategy.

Jeannette Howe, Executive Director, Specialty Electronics Nationwide: While at Tweeter and PARA, Jeannette and Deborah Smith were our industry’s version of “Thelma and Louise”. Since joining the Nationwide Marketing Group as Executive Director of Specialty Electronics Nationwide in 2006, Jeannette has helped make many an appliance dealer into a custom installer while simultaneously recruiting home theater and custom shops into their first buying group experience. Her efforts and the results have been beneficial to the industry as a whole. And she always looks so in charge at those CES panel discussions.

Larry Pexton, President, Triad Speakers: Outspoken and never shy about sharing his opinions, Larry Pexton and Triad Speakers have been synonymous with the custom electronics industry for 30 years. “Our growth rate and CEDIA’s growth rate are almost identical … right up to the peak year at Expo being 2007 and our peak sales year being 2007,” says Pexton. As the incoming chair of the association, Pexton latest pet project is to help integrators become better business people and maintain profitability, while challenging manufacturers to stop dropping price points to buy market share. “It’s completely irrational group behavior,” he told CE Pro last year.

Richard Schram, President, Parasound: Schrambo earned his early chops making Pacific Stereo a 1970s powerhouse retailer. He parlayed his Asian buying experience into Parasound about 30 years ago. Schram had the first Sony Walkman knock-off. He met a then unknown but talented amp designer, John Curl, and made him a cult figure. Since then Parasound has represented the value niche in CE better than bigger and more boastful competitors. Richard also continues his relentless crusade against shadowy unauthorized underworld internet characters.

Howard Sinkoff, CEO, Vutec Corporation: Not many people can say they have been around the industry since 1977, but Howard Sinkoff of Vutec can. The screen manufacturer specializes in having a broad range of solutions across all price points for both commercial and residential applications, not to mention having a full line of media concealment devices under the Artscreen brand.  Sinkoff himself is a fixture at industry events but never takes himself too seriously.

Deborah Smith, Owner, The Deborah Smith Group: Deborah has cracked enough glass ceilings in CE that all the helmets should be in a trophy case. She started on the sales floor at Tweeter while in college. From there she moved to Manhattan as General Manager for Harvey’s. Back at Tweeter, Deborah was Vice President of Marketing. Her crowning achievement was as Executive Director of the Professional Audio Retailers Association (PARA). When she joined the group was rudderless. When she left, it was significant enough to be taken under the wing of the CEA. Today Deborah owns a successful marketing firm with a CE emphasis.

Frank Sterns, Vice President/Custom Installations, Sony: Talent, charm and resilience might just be the Triple Crown for success in business and Frank has them all. Working for two audiophile companies led Frank to Infinity and 5 years as national sales manager. Seeing the future in custom, he then went to Niles and, as VP of Sales, served as the right hand man of Ivan and Lori Zuckerman. Frank survived the roller coaster than became Nortek/Core Brands but left them to refresh, make some wine and prepare for act two. After a brief flirtation with an undercapitalized startup, he recently joined Sony as VP of Custom.

Richard Stoerger, Vice President/COO, Audio Design Associates: I don’t think even Abraham Lincoln would have wanted to debate Richard Stoerger. As one of CEDIA Founding Members, Stoerger has been instrumental in the development of the custom electronics industry. Since 1988, this half tech geek/half sales machine has brimmed with not enthusiasm, but also skilled analysis on topics ranging from the decline of conspicuous consumption when the recession hit to finding the right emphasis on purchasing American-made products vs. offshore. Whatever the debate, Stoerger is likely to be in the middle of it, guiding integrators along the way.

Charles Thompson, President, Sell Through Solutions: Most who have worked with him or just attended one of his thousands of training sessions all over the world call Charles Thompson the best sales trainer ever put on the planet. He has trained for some of the best, most notably Head Monster Noel Lee who taught Charles more than a few tricks. As President and Owner of Sell Through Solutions for over a decade, Charles now offers his training insight for a number of the leading vendors in the CE business. Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Wally Whinna, Principal, Allnet Distributing: Wally Whinna opened up Allnet distributing in Chicago back in 1995, and was one of the visionaries and founding members of AVAD, the coalition of regional distributors that would be acquired by Ingram Micro 10 years later for as much as $200 million. After his non-compete was up in 2010, Whinna re-started Allnet (sister company of his 31-year-old rep firm Tandem Marketing), providing the same great customer service as the early days. This year, dealers named Allnet as the platinum winner for best customer service and communications in the CE Pro Quest for Quality Awards. In an interview with CE Pro for that award, Wally said, “We have seven field salespeople who work with the dealers in the field to close sales, specify jobs, do jobsite walk through, presentations to their professional referral base, meet with their clients or whatever it takes to help them close a sale.

Keith Zoll, Principal, Ray Supply: Keith started at Ray’s Supply straight out of college as the warehouse guy. Moving from the back of the house to the front he was general manager, then VP, and finally bought the place (with a partner) 30 years after he started. He helped transform this single store entity, situated about halfway between Albany and Lake George NY, from a classic TV parts distributor to a camera and stereo specialty shop to a CE Pro 100 custom installer. No small feat, given the rural nature of this town in the EIA’s smallest BPI territory.

So there you have them. A group of people, most of whom likely don’t know each other very well if at all, forever linked. People honored for the words written on their awards: “For Recognition Of a Lifelong Career In Consumer and Custom Electronics Punctuated by Honesty, Hard Work and the Admiration of Your Peers”.

As Glenn Frey wrote, “You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.”

(This piece originally appeared in the December 2013 edition of CE Pro magazine. It has been edited for AIHS and is reprinted with the permission of EH Publishing, Inc.)

Pressing Details – CBS Records

First RecordMy best early tour of the CBS Records plant was conducted by my friend Brad Pirch. He took me into every department and described what the engineering issues were in each place, how the process used to work and what was currently being done to improve.  He conveyed the same attitude as the Engineers from HQ: the plant is a wonderland of problems waiting to be solved. They shaved off minutes and pennies, which led to the high productivity and lower labor required in each successive plant. Brad had both scope and detail in his explanations. I begged Brad for memories about his 40 years as an engineer with CBS Records and he responded brilliantly. Enjoy!
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“My time started in the late 60’s in Terre Haute.  I will just describe the days of the glory of LP’s when (I think) about 5 companies were going strong:  Columbia, Warner Bros, RCA, Capitol, and MCA.  And I am just talking manufacturing of records, not the recording studio, acoustics, mastering, and marketing stuff.
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Don’t confuse these “Big 5″ with “record labels”, of which there must have been hundreds and hundreds. Only the Big 5 had the manufacturing to go along with their recording studios and artists.  The other labels (Motown for example) had to join up with (contract with) one of the Big 5 in order to get press time and production.  Of course, money did the talking in those days (i.e. Payola), so the competition was fierce.  I used to know the difference between each of the Big 5’s records, just by the feel and the design.  All the groove configuration was about the same, because they all had to play well on any given turntable.  But each one had its own contours, profiles, and label designs.Columbia Records invented the LP back after WW2 and I was lucky enough to learn from a few of the geniuses that were involved with that project after I began my career about 20 years later.  Those guys probably forgot more about LPs than I ever learned.

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History of Muzak

Muzak equip Nissen Collection

Muzak early subscription box courtesy Nissen Collection

My first experience with Muzak was in an elevator in Seattle. My mother had just remarked, “Now this is music!” while we listened to an instrumental of a Beatles song I was yelled at for listening to 2 days earlier. I didn’t appreciate Muzak until I started calling on them as a commercial rep in Seattle, and even then I had no idea of the accomplishments of the founder, George Owen Squier. In the course of researching audio history I was turned on to a well-researched history of Muzak (Thanks, Dean!) History of Muzak by Peter Blecha with excellent exhibits from the Nissen Collection.  Peter wrote “Sonic Boom” which I gave a rave review. The Muzak article intrigued me and I delved into old articles to learn more.

The story begins with George Owen Squier (1865-1934.) Mr. Squier was a Major-General and Chief Signal Officer in the US Army.  The July 14, 1919 issue of Scientific America introduces Mr. Squier and shows details of his patent to use living trees as antennae. All the details can be seen at Rex Research. To use a tree for an antenna, simply drive a nail 2/3 of the way up the tree, attach wire, and connect wire to receiver. Check this out, it is charming. British Patent Specification # 149,917 Improvements in & Relating to Radio Communication Systems.   (more…)

A Record Record Plant: CBS Records History

First RecordIn 1983 I had the honor of working in what was then the largest record plant in the world.

The actual claim is that the CBS Records plant in Carrollton, GA was  “the largest recorded-music manufacturing plant in the world.” This plant was awesome. We did everything – mastering, record pressing, printing, tape coating, injection molding, high-speed tape duplication, cassette assembly, packing, shipping, and record club fulfillment. (We also pressed video discs with injection-molded carriers, and no, I don’t want to talk about it. Yet.) Train cars of chemicals and vinyl pellets pulled up to what I was told were sixteen acres under one roof, although I haven’t verified that 700,000-square- ft estimate. People in the industry called us the Death Star. 

Before the CBS record plant in Carrollton, GA was built four years before, (more…)

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