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 

Don’t Let It Bring You Down

Girls Coming to Tech by Amy BixThere is a lot of talk lately about why women aren’t becoming engineers and scientists at a greater rate; the numbers are not appreciably different than in the 1970’s. Several studies show that both men and women have a perception of women being slightly less able in technical fields. Perception is not reality.

My awesome dock neighbor was describing one of the joys of his job as a Service Department manager at a major airline.  His joy is found in the outreach to community colleges and he was proud to have a couple of women under his tutelage. He described an encouragement session with one of his female mechanics, who was suffering a crisis of confidence. His gentle assurances to her made me wish everyone could have a person to explain the ups and downs of a career, and to show actual interest in the person succeeding.

In tech school guys (peers) would take the screwdriver out of my hand, literally. They were nice guys, and I believed then and believe now they were honestly just being sweet, but it got tiresome after a while.

Professors were not so sweet.

The first tech school I approached for electronics training in 1974 specifically said “We do not register young girls.”  I move along.

In the next school, one guy taught remedial drafting, which I had to take because girls were not allowed to take drafting in high school.  He would call me to the front of the room often and when I got there would say “Oh, nothing,” and then catcall me all the way back to my seat.  Very, very embarrassing. Later the guy went hunting with his kid and was shot (he lived.)  I always felt bad for not feeling worse about it.

At the university that came next, one professor had to be ordered by the Dean to stop calling the tab on a transistor package a “tit”. There were two girls in a class of two hundred guys.  We sat together, and everyone looked at us every time he said it.  It was embarrassing.

This particular type of rudeness was in technical classes, not humanities. The higher the ratio of men to women the less hospitable it would be.

Sexist events also happen out of school, during a career, of course.  My favorite is probably when Vic Richardson, Monty Ross, and I visited Toshiba Japan while licensing Carver Sonic Holography to them for their TVs. We were taken to one of Toshiba’s automated television assembly plants, and before entry Vic and Monty were both given cloth baseball – type symbolic “safety hats.” “Not for you,” I was told. I call the caps symbolic because as soon as we got in the plant we noticed multiple layers of conveyor belts overhead with full-size TVs burning in above us, which no cloth cap could effect in any way.

The things that happen can be understandable or infuriating, may call for action, even, but the embarrassment engendered in those schools felt creepy.  Made me feel like they actively didn’t want me to succeed. I haven’t felt that hateful edge since I’ve been out of school. In Japan, Vic and Monty and I laughed at the absurdity – but we all laughed together. I wasn’t being laughed at.

 

These memories were evoked while reading an article by Amy Blix on the history of engineering education for women.   Amy’s new book is  Girls Coming to Tech.

 

 

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…)

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