Roots of Remarkable Audio

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 they offered free Walkie Talkies for the first 50 kids, and free voice recording for everyone. Anything you wanted to say! In August 1948 you could buy a Disc Recorder on sale for $99.50, down from $157.50. And a pack of 5 Blank Records was on sale for .29, regularly 75 cents! In 1958 they were offering the Ampex Signature Home Music System AM FM Radio Phonograph & Stereophonic Disc Changer. Call or drop by for pricing!

A summer sale in 1964 wanted to move product by Empire, Electro-Voice, Fairchild, Fisher, Grado, Kenwood, Shure, Stanton, and Tandberg. Jump to November of 1968 to find a full-blown McIntosh clinic with free replacement tubes. This is where Greg Mackie went to find parts for a guitar amp Bob Carver was designing for him in return for Greg and his friends helping Phase Linear move to larger digs. This is also where Rick Chinn, audio engineer and designer, AES Officer for 44 yrs and counting, met Greg Mackie and their friendship turned into several famous Rick-designed products for TAPCO, Audio Control, Mackie, Symetrix, and more.

Started as a family business in 1947, Electricraft  slipped away into bankruptcy in 1979, followed by the end in 1984.  Magnolia Camera (1954) grew into Magnolia Hi Fi and began siphoning off high-end sales, while Pacific Stereo (1977-1986) captured the low end long enough to hasten the Electricraft slide. Comments in the Seattle Times of the day indicate that there was a perception Electricraft did not have a clear image in the market, and the lack of differentiation hurt them while helping Magnolia and Pacific define themselves.

The company may have ended, which is always sad, but the talented people spawned our audio environment, spread the excitement, helped encourage participation, and operated companies that employed lots of people. Both shoppers and employees went on to populate the most influential audio companies, stores, projects, stations, and studios in the Pacific Northwest. We are fleshing out the details of this company, and if you ever worked at Electricraft, do not be surprised if someday an email from the Audio Industry Historical Society shows up, asking for your memories. Or you could share some here. Please leave a comment – we would love to hear from you.

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10 Responsesto “Roots of Remarkable Audio”

  1. Rick Chinn says:

    I worked at the downtown store on Union Street in the summer of 1967 in the service shop. My student deferment was running out and it was just a matter of time until I got drafted. I was the guy who answered the phone and took incoming service work in. I also got to unbox new gear and get it set up, while testing to make sure it worked. I worked in the shop with Morris Fosse (aka Morris the Fussy), Henry Locke, John Ledbetter, Ben Dawson, and M.R. McKinley. Upstairs there were Don Parsons, Paul Miller, Ted Treanor, Ted’s son Teddy, Dennis Knight, Mike Leary, as well as Glenn White Sr, Jr Runchey, and Betty Hall. Betty gave me my first Altec industrial catalog. Thru my interest in live sound and being at Electricraft, I met Boyd Grafmyre and with my friend Dennis Darby, we became the first sound men at Eagles Auditorium for their rock concerts. That led to careers for both of us in live sound and touring audio. Eventually being on the road took its toll on me, and I switched to manufacturing. I went to work at Greg Mackie’s (who I met while working at Electricraft) first company, TAPCO. I kept my hand in live sound by working at Seattle Center, working on systems designed by Glenn White Jr.

    Sadly, Don Parsons and Ted Treanor are more recently departed. I crossed paths with Mike Leary via Facebook. It’s a small world.

  2. Don Palmer says:

    I had the pleasure of working at Electricraft Stereo in the early 70’s. I worked under Mike Holmes and Jim Crook. I worked with guys like Bob Pellend, Norm Corwin Dave Irish, Dennis Knight at the Roosevelt store. I also remember Tom Richardson with his Firebird! I always liked Tom. I also worked at the Bellevue store under James for awhile before I ended up going to work for Len Tweten at Magnolia Hi-Fi in Magnolia village (where I grew up). I worked with Bob Pellend and Charlie Fields and also with Len’s daughters Nancy and I think Linda if I remember correctly.
    I ended up managing the Magnolia store when the Roosevelt store was built. I can remember having a McIntosh clinic with Dave O’brien and Ray something who later ended up coming to work for us there at the Magnolia store
    I ended up going into the aerospace industry but always kept a passion for audio and I turned to tube gear in about 2000 and I still listen to vinyl. I have a 21′ Chris Craft Continental that is appropriately named ANALOG!

    • Mary Kay Morley says:

      Don,
      Thanks for the post. I too worked with Michael J, Jim and Norm.The rivalry between Electricraft and Magnolia Hi-Fi made being in the audio business in Seattle a great place to be. I ended up in the auto industry as do Jim and Steve Reiter. Also still listen to vinyl on Bose system.

  3. Martino says:

    The demise of Electricraft was a real tragedy: one of the partners had a bad coke problem, and set up a shell company which “bought” equipment from Electricraft, which was never paid for. The gear was sold to other consumers or stores, and the partner pocketed(or snorted) that income. I was running the Speaker Factory store at 508th & The Ave when I got a call from a buddy at Magnolia. Reading the Times article about the closing and seizure of the operation was heartbreaking, when the one partner said “I didn’t just lose my business. What’s worse is, I lost my best friend.” The other partner went to jail for embezzlement and tax evasion.

  4. Fnarf says:

    I have an old 78 RPM record by Jack Rivers, Neil Levang, and Janie Tucker on J R Ranch records, with the subhead Electricraft, Seattle, “Recordings at their very best”. I believe it dates from 1952. Jack Rivers was a country singer who also recorded for Capitol. I would love to know more about the recording end of Electricraft’s business.

  5. Mary Kay Morley says:

    I have fond memories of Electricraft. Started there as a cashier. My manager Steve Schneiderlet me start getting “spiffs” on the things I sold until the guys felt I was taking spiffs away from them. They gave me a graduation ceremony when they made me a sales man! Lots more stories. Won a national Bose sales contest with Clint Thayer.

  6. M R Mckinley says:

    Electricraft was the beginning of my career in audio. In my time there i was surrounded by the most knowledgeable people in the business. Don Parsons, Dick Miller, Ted Treanor and others made a big difference in my life and my career decisions. The E-Craft years were some of the best times of my life.

    M R

    • I didn’t even know you worked there until I started doing research! Electricraft was one of those special hubs. I would love to interview you about those times. We are putting up history and interesting stories on Electricraft – I will send you the link as soon as it’s up.

  7. Tom Richardson says:

    I worked for Electricraft from Nov 1969 through June 1972 managing the Burien, then Northgate and finally the Bellevue stores. Then went to work for Pacific Stereo managing the Santa Rosa store until October 1974. Being homesick for Seattle I returned to Electricraft and managed the Main Roosevelt store until June of 1976. Continued my home electronics career as a factory training rep and then independent consultant through the 80s and then did a midlife switch to being a social worker. The days at Electricraft were wonderful and full of playing with and selling great high end gear. Working while indulging in one’s hobby was a dream come true. Being surrounded by Altec Voice of the Theater, Bozak Concert Grands, the JBL Paragon and S8R and the KLH 9 electostatics as well as all the Ampex reel to reel, old school Marantz and the McIntosh Clinics was like spending weekdays in a fantasy land. Worked with great people too. Dennis Knight hired me and mentored me and became a great friend. Michael Holmes owned the company while I worked there and always made me feel appreciated and part of the team. A host of other unnamed people also remain fondly in my memory. It’s a shame that good stereo gear turned into products like toasters to be sold by big box stores by people who know next to nothing about the product. Stores like Electricraft and the old Magnolia Hi-Fi are now just memories of a classy era long gone. I miss it.

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