Saturday, June 7, 2014

Post 8. More Zenith Memorabilia

 HI!  This post 8 will feature engineers, executives, and others whom you may have known and  recall with pleasure-- and perhaps a little sadness for those who have shuffled off this mortal coil. (The last phrase was said by Shakespeare's Hamlet.!

The HALL OF FAME in Electronics, as selected by the Consumer Electronics Association, includes two Zenith inventors, as shown in the list below.

Robert Adler

Walter H. Brattain, co-inventor of the transistor

Karl Ferdinand Braun, inventor of the cathode ray tube


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In the last blog post, we talked about Robert Adler and his contribution of the remote control system, and its importance to Zenith.  (There are many more such contributions from him!). Here is a summary of Carl Eilers’ contributions, as listed in his obituary.

Four decades ago, high-fidelity stereo sound revolutionized the radio listening experience, and Carl G. Eilers helped make that vision a reality. Before the FCC adopted the Stereo FM Broadcast Standard in 1961, high-fidelity two-channel audio was limited to phonographs. Eilers' pioneering work brought crystal-clear stereophonic sound to tens of millions of FM radio listeners worldwide.

A senior scientist with Zenith Electronics Corp. for more than 50 years, Eilers began his career working on subscription television technology in 1948. During the 1950s, he turned his attention to developing the stereophonic frequency modulation radio broadcast system that is now in use around the globe.

While seemingly mundane in today's digital world, Eilers stereo FM innovations meant that, for the first time, radio stations could transmit two stereophonic channels with full high-fidelity on each channel, signals that could also be received by existing monophonic FM receivers without loss of quality.

Likewise, Eilers' advances in MTS (multichannel television sound) and SAP (secondary audio programming) have enhanced the television viewing experience. Thus, Eilers holds a unique place in the annals of consumer electronics technology history as co-inventor of two key industry standards --stereo FM radio and MTS stereo TV. Eilers, who led development of Zenith's Emmy Award-winning MTS stereo TV system, adopted by the industry in 1984, has been working on high-definition television (HDTV) in recent years.

A lifelong member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Eilers has received many industry honors for his work, including the IEEE Fellow Award, the Masaura Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award, the Audio Engineering Society Fellow Award and the R&D100 Award. Eilers had been granted 17 U.S. patents.

 The MTS (multichannel television sound)  patent and its relevance to Zenith’s survival,  will be discussed in some detail later in this blog.

In the spring of 2013, The Broadcast Technology Society Newsletter of the IEEE featured an article by Wayne C. Luplow and John I. Taylor titled “Channel Surfing Redux.” The article provided a brief history of the TV remote control and included a tribute to its co inventors, Gene Polley and Robert Adler. (Note: In Post 4, this blog also described the early work of the two inventors in the creation of the remote control system. )  

In the previous Post, it was  found to be impossible to insert Karl Horn's photo along  with his obituary. Now, success!  Here is his photo. 

 Karl Horn, 1923-2014.

Zenith produced some odd products! Here are three of them.
ODD ZENITH PRODUCT—No. 1                                                               
The Jack-in-the Box Television Set
A  projection television system uses an array of three television tubes side-by-side that  project  a three-color image onto  a reflective screen.  The benefit of a projected array is that the screen can be very large—80 inches . . . 100 inches,  and more.   The image a television cathode tube can display is limited to a maximum image 40 inches in diagonal measure, because tubes any tube  larger than that become  extremely heavy and cumbersome.  And if a tube that size ever “implodes” . . . havoc!
An unknown Zenith inventor . . . (if you know who it was, please let us know!)  came up with the idea of a greatly compacted projection system that comprised three very small  projection television tubes side-by-side, tubes with specially designed slanted faces.  The image projected by the three was focused on the back of a translucent screen.  It was such a neat idea that someone asked: Why not put it all into a standard-size television set cabinet?   And they did! And so we had the Zenith Jack-in-the Box Television Set!
By  an incredible feat of mechanical engineering, all the components were sized to fit  into the “box”—the projection tubes, the screen, the complex  lifting mechanism, and attaching parts. Upon command by a remote control unit, the cabinet lid folded back, and the whole assembly rose—like Lazarus— from  the cabinet .  (Anything the Lady of the House  had placed on the top would fall behind the set, of course.)  And it worked  in reverse:  press a button on the remote control and-- Et voila!-- the whole assembly would fold neatly back into the box, and the lid would close. 
Zenith thought  it had a winner, and it was proudly displayed at the next stockholder’s meeting. But circumstances dictated otherwise.  For one  thing, it cost a great deal than a standard set, and worse, the lifting mechanism could not provide the precision of alignment necessary. Carefully align the set, and it would show a beautiful television picture.  Move it a few feet away  (it was on casters) and the picture would become a mess.  The precision needed between the optical elements was not maintained,  nor could it ever be.  The Jack-in-the Box Television set brought in no “jack,” and Zenith could have used some jack at that point in time, for it was facing eventual bankruptcy.  
The best-laid plans of mice and men Gang aft agley. (Robert Burns To a Mouse. 1785.)
Odd Zenith Products No. 2
     The Bat wing Clock Radio
Early on, and long before the Japanese had captured the radio market, Zenith tried to provide all types of radios, such as the table models, and the portables such as the Trans-Oceanic broadband receiver—all excellent sellers.  Then Zenith designers ventured into the clock radio market, a “hot” field because bedside radios that could tell time and use the music in versatile ways such as to entertain and serve as an alarm.  So the “batwing clock radio” was born. It wasn’t called that, of course, but it soon gained that name.

    The radio told time by means flipping over  “flip cards.” There were 12 separate flip cards for  displaying the hours, 60 cards for the minutes, and 60 cards for display the seconds.  All were arranged in rank formation beneath a display window. The cards displaying seconds were busy little devils  as they had to be flipped over to display each second and show the progression of time.  Occasionally, some of the cards would stick together and turn over at the same time, and there would be a gap in the time display. The contraption was powered by a synchronous clock motor which flipped the cards in sequence, and  which also turned the radio on and off, serving as the alarm.
A sleepless person would of course become aware of the busy little clock as it flipped the cards over and over to tell the time. One amnesiac noted that it sounded like beating of bat wings in the night, hence the name The Bat Wing Clock Radio.  When he awoke bleary-eyed , a sleepless poet might write:
            Bat wings in the night
            You gave me a real fright!   

The Bat Wing Clock Radio was soon withdrawn from the market.  Perhaps the designers had learned that there were such displays as “Nixie” tubes, which are gas-discharge tubes designed to display numbers,  an ideal system for clock radio displays.   


The Roach Motel  Cable Box 
This product is not odd in itself, it is just what happened to it that is odd.                                                                                 

Another of the special products of Zenith was the  “Cable Box” which is designed to convert the television signals from a cable into signals usable by a television set.  It seems many of the boxes were stored in a warehouse in preparation for shipping.  The warehouse was infested heavily those insects that have been around since the dinosaurs roamed the earth—cockroaches-- La Cucuracha! One day, a mother cockroach decided that a cable box was an ideal repository for her eggs, and she proceeded to lay a great many of them inside one of the boxes.

The box was shipped to a lady who kept an immaculate house, one that had never witnessed such a thing as a cockroach (horrors!) . The box was installed, plugged in and it warmed up to a temperature ideal for the maturation of cockroach eggs.   And the baby roaches hatched and poured forth from the box to establish their usual  cockroach empire. The lady of the house was appalled to discover not one, but hundreds of them swarming around. So that is how the Roach Motel Cable Box was born-- and it had a very short existence.  (How the situation was remedied, it was never told . . .  perhaps by fumigating the cable boxes before shipment.)

Many Zenith engineers worked on the early versions of the Zenith Cable Box.  Some of them are shown in the caricature that follows, and you may recognize them.   A significant one is Vito Brugliera (bottom, center) a  brilliant engineer with  an MBA who later joined Philip Curtis in the battle of Zenith’s Second War, the War that  Zenith lost. That is a story yet to come in this blog. (I'm on the left,  bottom.)

Bob Podowski sent in a notice that will interest you--

From: IEEE eNotice <enotice@ieee.org>
Date: Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 9:01 AM
Subject: Historical Zenith Radio Technology event: June 18th at 7 PM To: robertpodowski@ieee.org

If you have an interest in the history of old time radio, check out this program offered by the Mount Prospect Public Library on Wednesday, June 18th at 7 PM.

In 1924, the Zenith Broadcasting Station established two radio towers in Mount Prospect. Big band talent of that era would come out to the station to play for the Chicago area radio audience.  Lindsey Rice, Director of the Mount Prospect Historical Society will talk about the towers and the man who operated them.  He was later to become the Vice President of Research and Development for Zenith.  Registration is required.

Call the library at
747-253-5675 to register.

Mount Prospect Public Library
10 S Emerson St, Mt Prospect, IL 60056

So mark your calendars for June 18,  7 pm, at the  Mount Prospect Public Library.

And here is another place of interest for those who delight in early radio and television. This one is located in Chicago at the place indicated on the map below.
   It is the Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC).  Its displays include a fascinating collection of radios and televisions, and  memorabilia from historic radio television shows. The museum building  itself is a stunning example of modern architecture.


McDonald’s Philanthropy
Despite his often rough  speech  and the  stern actions  made necessary by his role as the chief executive,  McDonald had a kind heart.  Four examples come to mind. First, he was outraged when he learned of the high cost of hearing aids, which he considered were little more than a tiny microphone along with a simple audio amplifier and a speaker.  So he set up a separate division of Zenith devoted to hearing aid research, and to  the design and manufacture of hearing aids. The Hearing Aid Division was set up in  a separate building known as “Plant 5.” He was also sympathetic toward deaf people because, according to his daughter Marianne (below), he became deaf in one ear when a car he was repairing blew up next to him.  

                                                                      Marianne McDonald
 A second example of McDonald’s philanthropy is shown by his concern for his women employees. Upon learning that he had cancer of the throat (perhaps due to excessive smoking), he did as he always did when confronted with a problem--he studied the disease. He learned that there was also a common type of cancer that affected only women. It is  called uterine cancer, and that it was  curable if detected on time. He immediately made its detection and treatment available  to all women employees at no cost to them. Many lives were saved.
The third was his concern for Ebony Magazine, a publication dedicated to the interests of the large African-American population in Chicago, which he believed  ought to have its own “voice” in the community.  He learned that the organizers  was struggling to find the start-up money to begin publication, so he contributed funds to make possible the publication of the first issues.
The fourth example is, of course, his setting up the Zenith profit-sharing plan for his employees.  It was perhaps the most generous of such plans ever conceived, and it  ranked along with the most  outstanding of  plans, such as that  of Sears.  McDonald  believed that his employees should share in any profit, for after all, they had made that profit  possible.  In the previous write-up on Gene Polley, Polley described the generosity of the plan, and what had it meant to him personally.  (And may I add, what it has meant to me, the writer of his blog, and all other Zenith employees.)
So that is it for the Zenith Book Blog post 8. A final word is a plea:  Help! Help! Help write this blog! Let this be a place where you and others can recall and bring alive again that great company we worked for--Zenith! Just email your suggestions to ducord@gmail.com, and perhaps write an article yourself--as Bob Podowski did.

So . . . Mizpah until next time.
 And don't forget to make your comments in the box below--

          Gang aft agley,
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men




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