Currently Browsing: Audio Industry History

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.   (more…)

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? (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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!
.
“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.

(more…)

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…)

William Shatner in Audio History?

Shatner photo 72dpiThe closest I have ever gotten to William Shatner was at a trade show.  Someone who worked for him bought me a cab ride and promised to put it on his expense account so I could truthfully say “William Shatner bought me a cab ride.” (And yes, I have a communicator pin.)

Doesn’t hold a candle to the awesome personal thank you from William Shatner to Dan Kiefer from the Phase Linear Service Department. Color me impressed (and maybe a teeny bit jealous.) My latest connection to Shatner? We both owned the same preamp. Thank you to Dean Nissen for picture and info.

 

1965 Seattle Audio Stores Banding Together

sterodealersinc front Seattle This was a great find: a group of Seattle audio stores banding together to promote stereo and component systems. When you chart the existence of each store, it puts the date of this group from 1965-1968. It looks like component audio needed some help in gaining acceptance from the whole family.

“FIDELITY? Faithfulness! A Banker to his Depositors…….a Sailor’s Wife when he’s at Sea……..and in a Stereo System, in reproducing sound exactly as in the ORIGINAL PERFORMANCE!

HIGH FIDELITY? Meaningless! “high” obviously means considerably less than completely faithful and is unacceptable in a Banker, a Wife, or a Stereo System.”

Maybe I should feel weird about being compared to a Stereo System, but in our line of work isn’t that a compliment?

Here are the stores that belonged to Stereo Dealers, Inc.:
Electricraft, Inc.    1408 Sixth Ave
Hamlin’s Audio Workshop     2128 Third Ave
Hess Recorder Co’s Stereo Center   620 SW 152nd
High Fidelity Headquarters    4741 University Way NE
Lafayette Radio Electronics   1210 First Ave
Magnolia Camera & Hi Fi     2231 32nd W
Pacific Electronics Sales    1209 First Ave
Seattle Radio Supply    2117 Second Ave
Seattle Stereo Center     2440 1st Ave S

I would love to hear from you. Do you recognize this brochure? Did you work in one of these stores? Drop me a line! Below is the rest of the brochure.

stereodealersinc p2 Seattlestereodealersinc p3 Seattlestereodealersinc back Seattle

 

Just for fun I mapped the Stereo Dealers in this group. Watch for the upcoming Map of Retailers 1948-2000.Thank you to the Roush Collection.

 

Booth Babe Bother

Bright Star Mosaic by Bonnie McBrideI had my first panic attack in the fall of 1977. I had just eagerly opened my booth package from the Consumer Electronics Show. It was my first CES, as well as my first time exhibiting. I ripped open the package, and in addition to the forms was a substantial little booklet – with head shots of girls my age! WTF? What could this be?

As I read the booklet and it dawned on me that you order booth babes from a catalog, panic rose with the thought – how are they going to know I’m real and not a booth babe? The babes were all just nice looking girls and could have been my friends. There’s no difference!

Breathing into a paperbag worked that time, but it just doesn’t stop. (more…)

Audio History and Memorial Day

Hamlin Audio from Patrick Roush Collection 2In exploring old audio history I often talk to guys that could reach into their pocket right that minute and retrieve a part from a 30-year-old product, as well as random parts from their current project.  This pre-Memorial Day lunch was different.

A guy walks into SpeakerLab (How many good stories could start like that? So many.) One thing led to another (Thanks, Ann!) and suddenly I was at lunch with a vintage-audio-component super collector named Patrick Roush. This guy can, right now, set up a dream audio stack with era-appropriate speakers and media. He has stacks of gear, carefully maintained and in working order.  He has tubes, of course, and he has a tube tester. For a while I was happy just listening to his component/loudspeaker/media combinations. It was like he was painting a picture of the preferred audio stacks of my older brother and his frat brothers, each one different but choice.

Because we are completing a database of influential audio Retailers in the PNW post 1948, my ears perked up when Patrick described a stereo component built by H.H.Scott and sold under the brand name Hamlins Audio Workshop.

The owner of Hamlin’s was Philip Deming Hamlin (1917-2014). Mr. Hamlin’s electronic expertise bloomed during his five years of WWII where he excelled in Radio and Radar Research, rising from private to Major.  He installed one of the the first cable TV systems in the world on Alki in 1949. He is also famous for inventing the cable converter box. He owned a factory named Hamlin International Corp and manufactured cable boxes and accessories.  In the mid-fifties to mid sixties Mr. Hamlin sold stereo audio components, as well as manufacturing his own speakers and amplifiers.  And that brings me back to the lunch with Patrick.

After introducing me to Hamlin’s equipment (some of it made by H.H. Scott), the conversation took a meditative turn when Patrick commented about the huge societal effect of the return of the soldiers of WWII. We also touched on Vietnam; which was a factor at the start of many of the audio industry careers we have been documenting. In addition, audio components came back to the states in great numbers as the Vietnam vets returned (Sansui, anyone?) Vets from both wars came back and changed the landscape with their new technical skills and interests,  war-related advances in communication technologies, and the G.I. Bill.

IMAG0140As we made our way out of Salmon Bay Cafe Patrick showed me where the cafe had added on during the 1990s. We turned to find the exit and bam! in front of us on the wall hung a 16″ disc labelled US War and Navy Departments. It was a WWII-era,old format record. I was suddenly appreciating Memorial Day in a new way. We celebrate veterans for their service, but we can also appreciate the many good things and opportunities they created when they got back.  And audio industry history is everywhere.

 

For more about Philip D Hamlin   The Old CATV Equipment Museum 

THE RACK SYSTEM—Darth Vader Comes to Audio

800px-AKAI_stack

A few of you are just about old enough to remember a particularly ugly era in the history of Consumer Electronics, a time that many contend (including me) started audio components on their death spiral that continues even today. It started sometime around 1975 and was pretty much over by the late 1980s. This was the era of the “rack system.”

It was innocent enough at the jump as most evil intended entities are. Separate audio components were hot items in the mid 1970s. Specialty stores were everywhere. Here in the Boston area alone, Harvard Square boasted eight stereo stores at the peak.

Manufacturers, most notably Japanese manufacturers, were in a race for greater and greater market share. By that time they dominated the receiver business, having vanquished or acquired the great American audio brands of the 1950’s and 1960s. They had made great strides in the turntable arena stealing business from European brands by successfully convincing the vinyl buying public, mostly stoners, that playing records one at a time was better for the planet that stacking them on a record changer, that malevolent contraption straight out of your Mom’s fruitwood veneer Sylvania console from 1957.

Yet the boys from the Pacific Rim had close to zero market share in freestanding speakers. True, they had improved the boxes cosmetically moving away from the fretwork grilles of the military PXs in the Viet Nam era to something that at least looked like a KLH. But putting lipstick on those pigs did nothing to help sales and speakers were the most profitable components in the system. (OK. OK. I’m not forgetting phono cartridges.) They needed something to increase the top and bottom lines and sell more speakers. Enter the rack.

The rack system looked like component stereo pieces placed on shelves in a piece of furniture. Safe enough, right? But the “components” were one big piece of electronics that shared a power supply thereby defeating the whole raison d’être for buying components over consoles and compact systems in the first place. It was deceptive. It was hypocritical. And it sounded just dreadful. But it succeeded. It was so successful in fact that major specialty audio stores were forced to carry it for of fear losing business.

The manufacturers sold these things to everyone short of convenience stores. Most notably, they put places like Macy’s and JC Penney in the specialty stereo business for the first time. Craving more, they moved even further down market to the likes of Target and K-Mart. Finally, the systems found their way onto little brochures tucked into virtually every credit card billed ever mailed.

Then suddenly they were gone. But like a hurricane, tornado or tidal wave their relatively brief time on the audio scene caused destruction that would last a long long time. Component audio came back with the rise of home theater but the thrill of a carefully chosen music system was dealt a near fatal blow.

(This piece originally appeared on the CE Pro website December 17, 2013 with the title “Can You Trust Your Vendors?” It has been edited for AIHS and is reprinted with the permission of EH Publishing, Inc.)

 

Roots of Remarkable Audio

Electricraft balloonIn studying the history of the audio industry in the Pacific Northwest the name Electricraft comes up a lot, whether you are talking about remarkable audio engineers, recording studios or retail stores. Like a bookstore in Berkeley or the roundtable at the Algonquin, Electricraft has all the markings of an extremely happening place in its day, with influence spreading out in time.

Electricraft had 8 stores and did $12M (equiv of $ 46M today) in its heyday. It was started by Oliver Runchey, Sr., and was run with help from his son Oliver Runchey, Jr., his daughter Betty Hall, and his son-in-law E.M. Ted Treanor. The formal opening was held Friday night, October 16, 1947 at their Home Appliance Headquarters at 622 Union Street. Their opening ad in the Seattle Times declared their product lines as Zenith, Emerson, Motorola Radios, and their specialty, Recording and Recording equipment.

During their Grand Opening (more…)

Major Buying Groups—The Glory Days Of The Mid 1970s

 

small_3428900164Chicago, January 1976. Not just Chicago but the Conrad Hilton Hotel, then the Crown Jewel of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, January 1976. Back when CES was a twice a year event and both shows were in the Windy City. Before Las Vegas!  

It was 5:30PM when I walked unnoticed into the Grand Ballroom. Very important men were gathered in small groups holding adult beverages and talking amongst themselves. I recognized a few of them from trade magazine photos. There was Jack Luskin from Baltimore talking to Alan Wurtzel from the Ward’s Company (before Ward’s decided that Circuit City was a way cooler name). In another group stood Dick (of Newmark and) Lewis laughing it up with Dave and Gene Mondry from Highland in Detroit and Saul Gold the Executive Director of the NATM Buying Corp.

Every one of the men mentioned in that last paragraph is in the Consumer Electronic Association Hall of Fame. They were the leaders of the Forty Thieves, the affectionate but somewhat damning nickname for the National Association of Television Merchants. The 16 (which may have seemed like 40) members of NATM were the most powerful hard goods retail force in America well into the 1980’s.

If you were a vendor or competitor of a NATM member during this era you know how significant this group was.

I had recently been hired as the youngest buyer in Boston-based Lechmere’s history.  I bought Hi-Fi/Stereo, considered an emerging category. Lechmere was no shrinking violet in NATM. The founding Cohen family (also each a CEA Hall of Famer) had recently sold their 4 store chain to Dayton-Hudson Corporation which had also just purchased Target Stores. Either Lechmere or Target was going to be D-H’s choice to nationally go head-to-head with K-Mart and/or Sam Walton’s upstart discounter Wal-Mart. (Guess who won that contest?) (more…)

Prankster In Our Midst?

The more I find out about the history of the audio industry in the Pacific Northwest the more interesting it becomes. And I have the joy of a discovery totally unrelated to the topic at hand. Like this one:

electric koolaid acid testFor a while in my early years I attended Clark College in Vancouver, WA.  One day Ken Kesey was scheduled to speak and although I went a little early I still ended up standing at the back.  Luckily it was a small room and I could see him easily.  Kesey knocked me over.  It was the first time in my life I experienced charisma and I was feeling it at the back of the room.  What was that?  I remember it like it was yesterday.

Kesey spoke about his life, his future, our future.  For some reason he brought a clean-cut, handsome young blond man out of the audience and began having a one-on-one conversation with him as part of his presentation.  We all wanted to be that guy.  Kesey wove thoughts of freedom, creativity, personal responsibility.  I had my mind opened and glimpsed possibilities never even considered until that day.  Quite a memorable experience.

More than 35 years later, I am sitting on the boat with Jay Huber, quizzing him about his youth and how he found his way into the Audio Industry.  I remarked that he must have attended Clark College around when I did.  We confirmed dates and he offered up one of his most distinct memories: the day Ken Kesey invited him to the front of the room.

Turns out, Jay was not only invited to the front of the room – he was invited to come live at Kesey’s farm in Eugene!  Jay declined being a ’70s Merry Prankster to our benefit, going on to help shape our retail landscape and product choices.  Among other contributions,  he co-founded several audio companies, including Croft-Huber Sound, Definitive Audio, and White-Jay Custom Audio/Cello.  Jay’s story is woven through the history of audio in the PNW and beyond, so stay tuned…

 

 

Thanks, Bill

Bill Skinner at TAPCO . Audio designer/Mentor designed for TAPCO, Phase Linear

Bill Skinner at TAPCO. Audio designer/Mentor designed for TAPCO, Phase Linear

In the process of begging for photos of the old days from my friends, Bob Gudgel let me have this picture of our friend Bill Skinner. I hadn’t seen him since before a terrible motorcycle accident took his life in the mid eighties.  He was a great guy and a technical mentor to many people in the audio world. He designed for companies including Phase Linear and TAPCO, where this shot was taken.  (more…)

Christmas Past

Audio Control Christmas 1980

Audio Control Christmas 1980

I can’t even attempt to name everyone here, for obvious reasons, but clearly Audio Control was a fun place to be in 1980. This is the Christmas card I received from them in December of that year. I’m not positive whose idea it was;  I always suspected  Ron Koliha (far right, kneeling)

Thanks to mutual friends and the urging of the parts reps (Was it Arrow, Radar Electric, Mouser? It’s a little foggy)  I started buying line cords from Greg Mackie/Audio Control during the late 1970s.  He and his associates were energetic, musical, and fun. And they sold me the cords at their price, even though they were buying thousands and I only needed hundreds.

So – are you in this photo?

Christmas Past

Audio Control Christmas 1980

I can’t even attempt to name everyone here, for obvious reasons, but clearly Audio Control was a fun place to be in 1980. This is the Christmas card I received from them in December of that year. I’m not positive whose idea it was;  I always suspected the born-to-be-famous Ron Koliha (far right, kneeling.)

Thanks to mutual friends and the urging of the parts reps (Was it Arrow, Radar Electric, Mouser? It’s a little foggy)  I started buying line cords from Greg Mackie/Audio Control during the late 1970s.  He and his associates were energetic, musical, and fun. And they sold me the cords at their price, even though they were buying thousands and I only needed hundreds.

So – are you in this photo?

Been to an Employee Reunion lately?

This was a very interesting weekend for those curious about Audio Industry History in the NW. On one coast, folks in North Carolina celebrated CarverFest . This is an annual celebration (since 2007) of all things Bob Carver: his patents, his products, his companies, and his willingness to mix and answer questions from his fans.  You can check it out yourself the Carver fan site  www.theCarversite.com or maybe Bob’s Facebook page.

At the same time, back on our coast, forty people came together to celebrate working at Carver Corporation during its twenty-year run.  It was a Carver Corporation Employees Reunion Picnic. I had never heard of such a thing. Have you been to a reunion of a company that is no longer viable?  It showed a lot of people loved working at Carver, were passionate about their jobs, and enjoyed their co-workers. I think this level of care by all employees helped make the products the long-lived things they were.

The picnic  was quite fun (although I got there late and missed lots of people that I hope to see next time) – Carver alums should check out the Carver Employee Group on Facebook for word of future events!

The Employees didn’t seem to know about CarverFest, and certainly CarverFest doesn’t know much about the Employees.  There are a lot of clever and triumphant stories hidden to history of techs, engineers, designers,  assemblers, QC, purchasing, and products, and I believe some of these stories should be out there!

I love that we were building things, fixing things, making things happen. A small factory is a wonderful place to work; every department is important and predictable rivalries make the plant go round ( Engineers vs Sales – anyone?)

The fact that people worldwide still buy, sell, trade, and celebrate audio equipment from 1975-1995 is partly a reflection of how much went in to those products in the first place. And as this week of celebration has shown us, the pride of the internal teams live on, just like the consumers love of the gear.

 

Who’s running the show?

Carver Management Meeting 2

In about 1986 Bob Carver wanted to go on vacation, but he was worried about decisions made in his absence. In our last management meeting before his departure we tried to calm his mind.  Or blow it.

Top row from left: Heather Hawley, Cory Rivers, Hugh Goring, Clyde, Ron Havercamp
Bottom row from left:  Colleen McNaur, Sue McCauley, Eileen Rutledge, Bob Carver, Marian Lundberg

 

 

First Contact

Popular Electronics Sep 1976On a dark night in October of 1976, my mother came up from Yakima to Seattle to sit with me while I packed up and left my husband. She was disappointed and nervous, and even more so when I convinced her to take one hit from the joint I was enjoying as I packed. After her hit she began looking around with paranoia, certain the cops would be knocking on the door any minute. The panic was not alleviated when a large pounding actually began on my front door. She was convinced it was the police. I opened the door to find a 6’4”, shaggy-headed stranger who asked “Did you order 12 EQ kits with no chassis from Popular Electronics?”  (more…)