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…)

Welcome Chuck Schneider!

The AIHS is proud to announce that CHUCK SCHNEIDER has joined the Society as East Coast Executive Editor.  East Coast Executive Editor AIHS

Chuck Schneider is a retired CE veteran executive turned popular freelance writer. Chuck has worked the retail sales floor, been a major chain store buyer, a manufacturers’ rep salesman and rep firm principal spanning 45 years in the industry.  

Chuck has won awards for his work in trade publications. He has written for Gatehouse Media, various travel publications and recently the CEA. He is currently Contributing Writer for CE Pro magazine, the first and only freelance writer to ever appear on the masthead in that publication’s twenty year history.

He is a cum laude graduate of Boston University with a major in history and was inducted into the Delta Mu chapter Phi Alpha Theta, National History Honor Society. As a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, Chuck pioneered the genre of Oral History as an acceptable thesis format.

For six weeks every year, Chuck is a certified Real Bearded Santa Claus bringing joy to private parties and charitable organizations. For the rest of the year Chuck works for Kathy, his wife of 35 years, in her long established antique business. They exhibit all over the Northeast. They have two grown children.

 All content with topics originating east of the Mississippi will be submitted to and reviewed by Chuck prior to publication. Please join us in welcoming him aboard!

Chuck can be reached at

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…)

What Is That? Marine Pollution

I live on a boat in Seattle, just inside the Ballard Locks and across the channel from Fisherman’s Terminal. It is common around here to hear someone exclaim “What IS that?” and the answer can range from a heron to a beaver to the Alaska ferry from Juneau to Sitka pulling in for service. Saturday’s query was totally different. Fisherman's Terminal hydraulic spill

We awoke to a disgusting coating of what looked like mud (or worse) surrounding all the boats on the opposite side of the dock. Our slip was shining with something oily that threw rainbows. After our neighbor called and reported the mess to the Coast Guard, he was told a large boat at Fisherman’s Terminal blew a hydraulic line and they would send an environmental team. The environmental team used bags and bags of sheets that soak up oil and apparently hydraulic fluid. All areas filled with the disgusting brown mess were treated. Our side, with the oily sheen, was not. The Coast Guard also dispatched an air team to get a visual of the spread of the pollution.  (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?

Before Here, There, and Everywhere

herethereeverywhereThis post is a raving, all thumbs up review of Here, There, and Everywhere by Geoff Emerick with Howard Massey. This is the story of a 19-year-old EMI employee being assigned by George Martin to record the Beatles. Incredible insight into the old world of studio engineering as it breaks through its own stuffiness and yields to new technology, new sounds, and new ways of looking at sounds. They learned how to produce and use sounds artistically – while having to fight white lab coats and suits to be able to do it!

Geoff tells cool, problem-solving stories.  One early story describes how he tries to satisfy each band member’s dream of their sound. He explains that Paul would ask for specific things, like more timpani, where John would want to sound like “the Dali Lama on top of a mountain,” and Geoff’s job was to fulfill these dreams. (John’s dream was realized with a Hammond and a Leslie.)

The descriptions of how recording used to work at what would become Abbey Road Studios, and how trying to serve the artist forced changes in the conservative company and its recording methods is fascinating, and the author has a calm, technical viewpoint that made the book easily devour-able and I was sad that it ended. If you love recording, companies in transition, the Beatles – you will love this book.



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