Monday, August 25, 2014

Post 13

Welcome to Post 13! 

This time, let's talk about the special products of Zenith. Not many know about Zenith and its special products, not even many Zenith engineers, nor did the general office workers.  Zenith  had seemed to be all about radios and televisions. But Zenith also had some incredibly gifted engineers-- electrical, electronic and mechanical-- that accomplished incredible things with special products.

The group that produced the special products was called, logically enough, "The Government and Special Products Division." The "Government" part was the obtaining of contracts for developing items such as proximity fuzes, safety and arming mechanisms (of which  Zenith sold $200 millions worth), and all the other types of products listed in the following description.  The division was located in  Plant 5 at 6501 West Grand Avenue. Its managers were Ed Passow and Bill VanSlyck. (It is of minor note as being where the humble, self-effacing writer of this blog started his career at Zenith in 1951, coming over from Admiral.)  The names of those working in Plant 5  include Donn Abbott, Don Anderson, John Quinlivan, Vito Brugliera, Wally Clay, Al Ditthardt, John Seifner, Leo Gizynski, Bill Counts, Jim Clark, Bill Russell, and others that escape memory. The author of this blog headed the tech writing group of two people, myself and Don Gayle, assisted by  our girl Friday, Sandy Cherwin, who was lightning-fast on the word processor. She had to be, for our main job was writing proposals to obtain government contracts. We produced dozens of them, and they garnered several millions dollars in contracts. We also produced dozens of  "facility descriptions."  Here, for example,  is the first page of a description of some of Zenith's production facilities.

The captions are difficult to read,  so here is a rewrite of the two main captions.  For the top photo: "Plant 2 Press Room covers 20,000 sq. ft., and contains 96 punch presses ranging in capacity from 3 tons to 200  tons."

--and the bottom photo caption: "This crane handles as much as 300,000 pounds of steel a day."  
In reading these descriptions, one comes to realize that  Zenith in its  prime was very big company!

The facility descriptions were selected and "slotted into" proposals to obtain government contracts.

The prime purpose of the Special Products Division was to serve as a "back-up" to the main Zenith activity of  manufacturing radios and television sets--and to make money, of course. If that prime endeavor ever failed (which it did eventually, as will be told), special products would be a "fall-back" so Zenith could stay in business.  What happened to that backup will also be told in what can be called Zenith's phase of "throwing the baby out with the bath water" after the television market for Zenith had collapsed.  (Oh!--there are such sad stories to relate. The saddest words are  it might have been . . . . when applied to Zenith.)

OK!  Special Products.   Let's look at the catalog for the Special Products of Zenith-- 


Now look at some of the key items inside--
                                                           Radio Set PRR-15(z)            

Radio Set PRR-15(Z) is a man-transportable, monitor receiver continuously tunable from 0.54 to 205 MHz.  Built to withstand military environments, the set receives AMF, FM, CW, and SSB signals while operating from an internal 12-volt battery pack, a 24-volt vehicular battery, or 120 volts, 50-400 Hz.  The i-f bandwidth is selectable and a tuning calibrator and S-meter are provided. Accessories include a tape recorder, microphone, headset, and whip and wire antennas.
This radio set is obviously a militarized version of the Zenith Trans-Oceanic, with additions such as a tape recorder.   

And there is a story that relates to this radio set--

It happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis!  John Kennedy was President. Russia had  installed rocket launchers on the island of its ally Cuba--rocket launchers capable of launching a missile with an  atomic war head.  Talk about a crisis!--America was in an uproar. The launcher installation was monitored from the air, of course, but it was necessary to get some special forces on Cuban  soil.  The forces needed a radio set with broadband capabilities, and the Zenith Trans-Oceanic was the only one available that fitted the requirements. But two problems arose: (1) the transoceanic was designed for consumer consumption, and it had shiny metallic surfaces that make it visible at night, and (2),  it was needed immediately--like now!

The solution? Cover it up!  Gene Kinney had a sail boat with canvas sails, of course, so he raced off to the boat-yard where there was a sail-maker who was put to work to supply canvas bags to cover the trans-oceanic, and make it less visible.  They worked overnight it is said, and canvas-covered Trans-Oceans were delivered and played a  part in resolving the Cuban missile crisis.    The tape recorder recorded the code  used for communication between the Russians and the Cubans.  The radios were then buried in the sand.

And from that use there came about Zenith's militarized Trans-Oceanic called Radio Set PRR-15(Z).

(Thinking about that missile crisis--that's the closest we came to an atomic war.  If whoever had control of the trigger of that missile launcher,had pressed it,  it would have been a case of "MAD"--mutual assured destruction of Russia and the U.S. It is frightening even in memory for those who lived through that period.)

Let's look at another Zenith special product--The "Bell Boy" paging receiver--


 Designed to page people who are "on the go" such as salesmen, doctors and servicemen, this digital paging system has a  capacity of 30,000 subscribers  per rf channel, with an eventual  capacity of over 100,000.  The receiver is light, compact and rugged.  It can be carried in a pocket, on a belt, or affixed to an automobile sun visor. The call rate of the system is five per second. A receiver code can be set by adjustment of  a single, inexpensive plug-in coding element. The receiver operates in the 150 MHz fm radio band. Transmitters and terminals can be tailored to the buyer's needs.                                                                  

And what product  does the Bell Boy resemble?  Yes, the cell phone, of which there are now five billion in world-wide use.  Just combine a telephone circuit to  paging receiver and you will have a cell phone.  So Zenith was very close to offering a cell phone to the its customers.

Why didn't it?  It was ready to. We'll see why later on in these postings. 

More Zenith Special Products

VHF-FM Transceivers.

 [Sorry, but a better photo is not available. The original reproductions are quite beautiful. But there is a conflict between the half-tone screen of the original and the ability my printer to resolve it.  Several tries were made with various printer dpi's. Color photos reproduce much better.]

Anyway,  five such  transceivers are shown.  The one shown is for a base station and the other four  are vehicular, for marine use, and airborne.  There is also a hand-held transceiver.

The catalog goes on to list, describe and show the following equipment--

[The equipment is not shown (it is beautiful equipment) because the  reproduction is so wretched.]

Air Traffic control and IFF Radar
    Range Azimuth Beacon Monitor ZRC-42
    Receiver-Transmitter Group
    Receiver-Transponder Drawer and R'T Group
    Interrogator Set

Light Amplifier, The Uniscope

The Uniscope was described in some detail in Post 8.  The description tells of its use in the
Viet Nam war as a night viewer for siting guns that fired at truck traffic on the Ho Chi Min Trail. The Uniscope technology is also used to make wearable night-vision glasses used by the military.

Also, Post 8  tells how a group of Zenith employees acquired the Uniscope technology when Zenith dumped it, formed a company, and became millionaires in the process. The Uniscope is now widely used by the military, and a "surplus" of them has been given to the police departments all over the country.

Not just Uniscopes are given!  Over $4 billion worth  of military equipment has been given to police departments nationwide, including such combat-ready equipment as tripod-mounted machine guns, grenades and grenade launchers,  armored vehicles, some with a rotating turret, a pilot-less surveillance drone, helicopters and other combat aircraft, and various pistols, rifles, and assault armor. If you want a tank or a combat aircraft, you have to fill out a one-page form. And just about every government agency has its own  "swat" team, including the Forestry Service. (What do they "swat"?  Mosquitoes?)

(Just what are we preparing for?  One shudders to think. But that is not the subject. Let's go on.)

This interesting object is the Zenithcon 1.  It is a low-light-level television tube for television imaging at starlight light levels.  It has the sensitivity of the channel-plate amplifier at low light levels. (Low-light level television pictures on a battlefield? Very handy.) 
Image orthicons are also used to transmute radars images into television images. A "recent" application (like 40 years ago) is a rocket-borne system for high-altitude diagnostic evaluation of simulated nuclear effects. (Perhaps the nuclear effects of an incoming ICBM?)

In addition, Zenith Special Products offered an optics laboratory and expertise in microcircuits, both thick and thin-film. And of course, a mass-production factory  available for all the special products. 

All gone, now.  Kaput. No longer available. During World War II, America was known as "The Arsenal of Democracy." No more. In case of a world war, the "arsenal" is scattered all over the world.
                                                                       * * * * * * * *
Enough of lamenting! Let's look  into one of Zenith's triumphs, of which there were many. 
 Chromacolor!--a real winner! 

And it was invented by a Zenith employee! Sam Kaplan!

                                                                    Sam H. Kaplan

Joe Fiore is also named in the patent, but Kaplan was the true inventor. However, Fiore made the invention work!--an invaluable contribution, and he deserves to be listed as the co-inventor.  

When a Zenith television set with a Chromacolor picture tube is set side-by side with a tv set with a standard tube in it, there is simply no comparison.  The Zenith colors are brilliant  blue, and the color blends are not washed out.  Zenith had a winner! The concept was patented in every country except Japan, which meant Japan could sell it in Japan and all over the world, but not in the United States, the biggest market.  This must have aggravated them for they filed a suit to nullify the patent. Let's look into this and see what happened.  Here is what the papers of a patent suit as filed in a Federal court look like:

                       6548 F. 2d 88 - Tokyo Shibaura Electric Co Ltd v. Zenith Radio Corporation            
                                                            193 U.S.P.Q. 73
                                      TOKYO SHIBAURA ELECTRIC CO. LTD., et al. (Toshiba)
                                        ZENITH RADIO CORPORATION, Appellant.
                                                              No. 76-123
                                              United States Court of Appeals,
                                                              Third Circuit.
                                                         Argued Oct. 8, 1976.
                                                         Decided Jan. 7, 1977.

And below  is a copy of Zenith's patent--

Here is a description, and in simplest terms:  Fig. 1 shows a tv picture tube in outline with three "guns" 22, 23, and 24 firing electron beams onto a screen 28 covered with dots of phosphor that emit red, green and blue light when energized by  designated ones of the  electron beams. The screen has a high-voltage charge to draw the beams to it. The three beams pass through a single aperture of a "shadow mask" or "color selection electrode," that helps ensure that the  beams fall on the designated dots of phosphor. The phosphor dots are formed in triodes; one  triode is shown (rather crudely!) by Fig. 3 --which is a doctored-up version of  the original drawing to show the colors. The  groups of triodes as they are  applied to the screen  are indicated by Figure 4. 

Now look more closely at Fig. 3 and note that each dot of color is surrounded by a black ring, which is made from a dense black material. This ring is the "guard band" according to the invention, which provides for color isolation. Let's say that the red beam wanders away from its target--the red dot-- and toward the green dot; it will be intercepted by two of the black guard bands--one around the red phosphor dot and one around the green phosphor dot. So color purity is maintained.

This is a highly simplified description, and there is much more to the invention, but it is adequate to explain the invention. Let's see why the invention was rejected as invalid.

 Zenith lost the patent as directed by the Court, which determined that the color tube concept embodied in the Zenith patent were obvious in view of the prior art, and that the patent was therefore invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 103 (1970). The prior art is  Patent No. 2,846,637 to Frank J. Bingley. Bingley's patent is to a striped-screen tube wherein the red, green and blue light-emitting phosphors are arranged on the tube screen in a vertical direction as vertical color stripes, as indicated below--

(Note:  the colors shown: red, green and blue indicate the colors of the vertical stripes, which extend the full heighth of the screen.)

So the vertical stripes of red, green and blue are flanked by black stripes, which can be assumed to be "guard bands," as in the Zenith patent.  That fact that Bingley shows an entirely different picture tube, one with vertical stripes  of color instead of dots of color, made no difference.  Also, the fact that the Bingley picture tube was an "index" tube (let's not go into that) and that such tubes with vertical stripes were  never successful, didn't matter:  the judge decided that the black "guard bands" of Bingley disclosed the black guardbands of the dot screen tube.  So the patent was found to be invalid on the basis that  "the invention was considered to be 'obvious' under 35 USC 103."

   The loss to Zenith?  A good portion of market share, for the Japanese were now able to sell Chromacolor sets in the U.S.  Also, the loss of the royalties which may have amounted to $10 millions over the years while the patent was in force.

                                                                     * * * * * * * *

Here follows a page from the magazine Zenith ServiceWorld.  The number  200,000 refers to the number of man-hours of technical training provided by Zenith to those who serviced Zenith products.

Zenith not only manufactured superlative products, Zenith also made sure that they operated during their full service life. Viz. The Quality Goes In  . . . .  And the customer was king.

All gone now.  Once upon a time, you could get your radio or television set serviced  in almost every city and town in the U.S.  Not any more. All gone.

                                                                     * * * * * * * *

On that cheerful note,  let's look forward to Post 14!  Once upon a time there was a group of Zenith engineers who  designed and manufactured cable boxes, with intent to sell  them to cable companies nationwide--sell to companies like Comcast, Times Warner, Cox, and Verizon  FiOS, and the thousands of cable companies word-wide.  A big market! And before that market bloomed into millions of cable boxes worldwide, it was sold by Zenith.                                                                    

Your modest self-effacing author of this blog landed with the cable group after being Rif'd from the patent department.  The cable group needed someone  to prepare technical manuals for the cable equipment, so there was I, twisting in the wind, and they dragged me in. And, of course, where I went, there would  soon  be a new publication, and so there was, and it was called Z-TAC News--


("Z-TAC" was the name of the Zenith cable box.) That was a fun time for me for I had access to a superb cartoonist, fascinating stock illustrations, and some great people to work with (as always at Zenith). But that is another story, and one to look forward to in Post 14.                                                                     

For those who have commented and made suggestions, Thank you!  Keep them coming, and please forgive any errors of fact.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Post 12

Welcome to Post 12 of the Zenith Book Blog!
Some of our dedicated readers have expressed a doubt--

"Why would anyone write a book about the late Zenith Electronics Corporation?" they ask.  "In fact, why would anyone even read such a book?  Zenith is now history--a story quite long in the past, as  Zenith went bankrupt 26 years ago. And those under age 30 will have little or no memory of Zenith."

But for the greater many of those who are older (alas!), the original  Zenith Radio Corporation is still firm in memory, for who can forget the slogan The Quality Goes In Before the Name Goes on, or forget “Mr.Zenith” —Commander Eugene F. McDonald? Zenith was, after all, the “All-American Company”—a glowing success for over 60 years, widely known and much loved by Americans.

Then two other questions may follow:  Why did Zenith fail, and what caused its failure?
The why and how of its failure will be told in a forthcoming book titled   A Requiem for Zenith: Why It Failed, and the Lessons to be Learned From That Failure. The book will be written by Ralph E. Clarke, with Phillip J. Curtis. But the story of  Zenith will be first told in the many Posts in this blog--pages of which you are now reading--called "the Zenith Book Blog."  It is hoped that former Zenith employees will help write the book by their written contributions and the correction of errors.    
Few people really know why Zenith failed.  Former employees are not aware of the reason, nor is the general public.   It is an story that begs be revealed for it tells how the Regan administration  literally gave away to the Japanese . . .  not only the radio and television business of Zenith Electronics Corporation, but  also that of the entire American  consumer electronics industry.  
(Note:  Many believe that Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest American presidents, and  that he had good reasons for what he did, as will be explained.)

Does it  seems probable--or even possible, that a reputable  American administration of elected officials could do that?  But before judging whether the assumption is true or not, please look forward to the story in  forthcoming Posts of this blog.  The facts will be shown!
So there you have a summary of the first reason for Zenith's failure.. The second reason  is an older and simpler story—plain bad business decisions by a Zenith management that ensured Zenith’s eventual bankruptcy  

The story of the dual betrayal and mismanagement will arouse outrage in that it should never have happened—outrage especially in those who spent their careers with Zenith,  and who loved Zenith. If the events  described had not occurred, Zenith would be alive and well today, still employing its thirty thousand American workers. And a thriving  American consumer electronics industry--comprising many other companies besides Zenith--would still be employing its hundreds of thousands. (That is a good chunk of the American middle class, and people wonder why it disappeared.)

The book that tells the story titled A Requiem for Zenith,  will comprise a compilation of two sources. The first source is a  book by Phillip J. Curtis, Vice-President of Legal for Zenith.  The Curtis book is titled “The Fall of the U.S. Consumer Electronics Industry: An American Trade Tragedy.” It tells the story of how the radio and television business of the entire American consumer electronics industry was given to the Japanese.
Phillip J. Curtis

The second source for the writing of the Requiem book  resides in  the files and memories of Ralph E. Clarke, a 40+ year employee of Zenith, and a professional writer with several books and other works to his credit. His contribution will comprise three functions:  Summarizing the Curtis story; reporting on the  management missteps that led to the  final failure of Zenith; and, the writing and recording of the Zenith Chronicles, which comprise  the important events in the history of Zenith.
Further with regard to the Curtis book:  it is a legal indictment of a wrong committed by an American political administration, with chapter and verse in substantiation and proof as only a brilliant lawyer could tell it  The subject and its telling, however, is not one to command attention where it counts—with the American public.  A Requiem for Zenith will attempt to remedy that problem before the Curtis story is lost to history, and it will bring to the Curtis  book the understanding and the recognition it deserves. 
                                                                         * * * * * * *
The foregoing section talks about mistakes by a management as the second cause of Zenith's failure.  Let’s look at a prime example—Lansdale!

LANSDALE!  It is a pretty building in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, purchased by Zenith from Ford Motor Company from whence also came John Nevin,  who had become the President and Chief Executive Officer of Zenith.  The Lansdale  factory had been used to manufacture one of the Ford Motor Company products, perhaps the Edsel. 

                                                                     John J. Nevin 

A Zenith marketing guru brought over from Ford had concluded that there would be a shortage of television picture tubes, and that Zenith should manufacture a lot more of them.  So Zenith  bought the Lansdale building,  and  built  therein a  picture tube factory.

A facility for manufacturing picture tubes is a sheer marvel that encompasses all the arts of manufacturing.  The photos that follow give some idea of the scope and extent of the Lansdale factory--

The photo shows a line of pumps used for circulating the fluids required for the manufacture of television tubes. And there are many fluids: water, of course (deionized, too), acids, alkalis, hydrogen trioxide, etc.  And there are separate tanks for all of them, connected and interconnected by myriad pipes, conduits, conductors, valves, and unions--a wilderness of plumbing activated by myriad electrical controls and circuits.

Add to all the tools and equipment, hundreds of technicians and engineers, all highly skilled  and specialists in what they do to maintain and operate and the  factory.


--and of course, there are long assembly lines with the many attendants required as the tube travels a path from raw glass tube to its final testing stage, ready for sending to an assembly plant where it is fitted into a cabinet and becomes a salable product.

Looks pretty  expensive, doesn't it?  It was.  The cost was $65 million.  That was the cost in 1975. That $65 million in 2014--today's money--amounts to  $314,245, 334.  That's right--nearly a  third of a  billion in today's dollars!  (Let us not get started on the continual cheapening of the dollar by successive administrations of the Federal government!)

Well anyway, the factory was finished, so let's produce some television tubes.  For that, we need some electron guns (actually 12 million of them).  The electron gun is the part  that projects the  three electron beams that activate the red, green and blue-light- emitting phosphors deposited on the inner surface of the glass screen that fronts the tube, and creates the television picture. 

Let's look closer at those  electronic guns. At the time, there were two types of three-beam electron emitters: three guns arranged in a triangle, and, three guns in-line.  The three guns arranged in a triangle were becoming  obsolete because of the difficulty in focusing them, leaving the in-line gun considered as the best type. .  And which type of gun was chosen for early production?  You guessed it:  the obsolete gun.  Let's pass on that (with a sigh),  and report that the first production run was 250 tubes.  And that was it:  250 television tubes were manufactured.  No more.  And tubes with an obsolete gun in it.
Then--(can you believe this?) the realization sank in that more television picture tubes were not actually needed, so manufacturing was suspended, and the plant was put on hold--for three years! What to do with it? Well, perhaps it could be sold.  So an elaborate brochure was created (with my help, I might modestly  add) --

The General Specifications were cited:
     Production capacity: 1,200,000 color television tubes a year
     Number of production lines: Two lines, each capable of manufacturing 600,000 tubes a year. 
     Conveyors: 17,000 linear feet
     Area: 605,000 square feet.  Et cetera . . .

And the "pitch" presented in the brochure read like this--
     "Zenith Radio Corporation herewith offers for sale its Lansdale Pennsylvania, USA manufacturing facility for television picture tubes. This offer is for the facility in its entirety, or, the equipment therein.
     "The facility is housed in a very modern building some of which is only four years old.
     "Equipment compromising the facility is of the most advanced design. Most of it is specialized, intended solely for  manufacturing of television picture tubes." (...which means you can't adapt the plant facilities to any other type of manufacturing. Oy veh!)
         More et cetera . . .  

Gene Kinney, Sr. Vice President,  got the job of taking the brochure  around the world seeking buyers for the Lansdale  factory. Nobody took the bait, except for a mild interest by the Chinese.  But the Chinese looked at it more closely and said--

--which means "no" in Chinese.
So nobody wanted Lansdale. It sat there for three years on hold, not "moth-balled," just held.  And then some bean counter (the term engineers use for the finance guys who squeeze the purse strings), acted. "Well," the bean counter thought, "let's save money with this White Elephant"--                                 
                                                   "Let's turn off the heat."

 And lo,  it was done. The heat was turned off.   All those many fluids froze. The factory was literally reduced to junk.

Now Lansdale did have a buyer--a junk man. He paid $1 million for it.  So Lansdale wasn't a total loss--$65 million minus $1 million equals a loss of  only $64 million. Not exactly a good return on investment.

No "goat'" was known to have been pitched out of the company for this disaster.  But the brilliant designer of the plant had left Zenith, perhaps fearing  that he would be selected as the  goat.

But we're not through yet!  Remember that comment about Lansdale having a dirty secret? The EPA (Environmental Inspection Agency) had noticed the pollution resulting from its early use by Ford as a manufacturing plant. There was so much pollution that there was "plume" of it penetrating deep into the earth.  And to clean up a mess like that, the EPA  selects not the previous owner who made the mess, but  the current owner, which of course, was Zenith. And it had to be one with "deep pockets," which Zenith had at the time (although its pockets were  to become shallower very quickly.) One can only guess how much it must have cost to clean it up Lansdale, but it must have been plenty.  (Does anyone know?)

We can only wonder what the Commander would have done about a fiasco like this.  

                                                                   * * * * * * * * *
So that's it for Post 12.  You have had  the introduction to the why and how of  Zenith's  failure, and the loss of the entire American consumer electronics industry. The facts will follow in later editions of this blog. But to keep you on the edge of your seats, let's first reveal  some other management failures, and perhaps a bit of history.  Next time, we'll look into the loss of Zenith Chromacolor, and how much it may have cost Zenith.

And!--if you see an error, yell!  To correct a mistake in identity, scream! To rectify an injustice, bleat! The "Comment" box below is waiting.   After you enter your comments, the word “Publish” will appear. Also, the word “Preview,” which gives you a chance to change your mind, or to correct any evil grammar and spelling. And the author of this blog will try respond.  

Eleven blogs preceded this one.  If you want to view an earlier blog, scroll to the front of this blog.  There you will find them listed by date on the right where it reads "Blog Archive."   Click on a date, and  the blog  will appear. 

Thank you!  And--