Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Post 14

Post 14. 

Greetings from the author of the Zenith Book blog! For this post, we'll review the work of a group of Zenith engineers engaged in the design and development of a promising product--the television "cable box."  More specifically, the cable box is an electronic tuner that converts multiple channels from a cable television service to a single  channel, usually VHF.  The box is a channel for a  variety of services such a pay-per-view, parental controls, and "on demand."

 Here is a photo of a typical cable box, one from Pace Micro Technology--

The box you see is copied from Wikipedia.  If you want to stuff your head with more information about cable boxes, go to the invaluable Wikipedia (And you might want to make a small contribution to Wikipedia--they need it, for they are not in the business of making money, but to provide a invaluable service.)
(Author's rueful note:  I can't show a photo of Zenith's cable box because one isn't available. At one time, the writer was neck-deep in them, but never took a photo of one.)
And of course, there is a hand-held control for selecting channels, one of which is found in most households in the world. Controls now offer a  selection of  hundreds of channels.      Here is a control from Comcast, now the biggest supplier in the U.S.--

--and for comparison, here is a photo of the original ultrasonic remote created by Bob Adler in 1958--

It offered a selection of four channels, plus "on and off." 

And throughout homes all over America, comes the plaintive cry of "Who's got the remote?"  Also, the "couch potato" came into being.  Not for nothing was the first remote invented by Gene Polley called "the Lazybones." (It is said that  is was named Lazybones by Mcdonald's granddaughter.)

Now, how does that television signal get into the house? No longer through an antenna hanging on the chimney (as described in another part of this blog), but through a single conduit called the coaxial cable, which consists of a single tiny wire  (D) shown below, surrounded by the simple components A, B, and C, as shown --

                                              (Again, copied from the invaluable  Wikipedia)

And, through that slender conduit of copper wire flows the  millions of bits of information that comprise hundreds of television channels.

(Now, a digression:  That slender wire works both ways: It can carry signals the opposite way as well--signals from a camera and a microphone attached to the television set to record what goes on in that  room and its occupants.  In the novel  titled "1984," George Orwell describes such a scenario:  a man is doing his compulsory early-morning exercise as instructed by the television set under the direction  of the dictator "Big Brother" (Big Brother is Watching You!) He slacks off on his exercise, and the commanding voice of Big Brother booms from the television set, calling him by name and reprimanding him. Don't laugh--soon your TV set will be so equipped, if it is not already.) 

Well, now let's "get to the chase", and round up the usual suspects--those Zenith  employees selected to design, develop and promote the Zenith cable box--

The names of most of them have been lost in memory.  But certain ones can still be called out:  Kelly ("Gene")  was the nominal director of the group; Kemp ("Dick") had charge of he field engineers, of whom Cohn ("Bill) and Bellavia ("Andy") were two of them.  Fulton ("Bob") was in charge of computer ops.  The man at the bottom center is Vito Brugliera, an MBA and a brilliant engineer, who was Director of Marketing for Zenith cable products.  He  later assisted Phil Curtis in the two Wars that Zenith fought--the first War against an RCA cartel that Zenith won, and the second War against an RCA-Japanese cartel that Zenith lost, as did the entire American consumer products industry. Here is photo of Vito Brugliera, for what he did for Zenith in fighting the Zenith's Second War is memorable (and you can compare  how well the caricaturist did in depicting him)--


(The cat at the lower left is the humble, self-effacing proprietor of this blog.)

Anyway, let's see what they all did and what progress the cable group  was making.  They were all gathered on the fifth floor of the Glenview plant, before transferring to their own building.  Their activities were reported by the Z-TAC News, as mentioned in the last Post--Post 13. 

I had come over from the Patent Department to create a Z-TAC service manual, which entailed writing and  taking of the photos. We can dip into Z-TAC News to follow the progress in the development of the Zenith cable box.
Here's a page from the Z-TAC service manual, also shown in Z-TAC news.  The circuits were complex, which may have been the source of the problems evident in  early versions of the Z-TAC cable boxes.
 Obviously, the cable box was no simple device.  And many of the early versions of it were placed with customers by cable companies, and were returned to Zenith as defective.  Zenith had a whole warehouse near-full of cable boxes returned as defective/inoperative. 
   Zenith's staff of field engineers did their best to teach  the users how make the cable boxes work. Here is a sketch of Field Engineer Andy Bellavia teaching the operation and adjustment of the cable box--
Andy would go t into the field  and teach  maintenance of the cable box.  And the participants would come up after class and say:  "But Andy: we've done all those things, and it still doesn't work!"
What could Andy say?  Hardly--"The design is no good." So he had to keep silent.
Dick Kemp, who was in charge of the Field Engineers was going out of his mind with worry as the warehouse was filling up with rejects. The quality just wasn't going in before the name went on.
Dick Kemp
But finally--Finally!   The tide turned. The nasty design problem was resolved.  Bill Cohn, one of the field engineers, and soon to be the head of the field engineering group upon the untimely passing  of Dick Kemp, tells the story--

"We became one of the bright spots of  Zenith as Zenith became the Number 2 supplier of cable boxes in the United States. We sold to all the major cable TV companies such as ATC,  Group W, Jones Intercable, Telecable, Viacom, Paragon Cable, Continental, Cox, Charter, and many other cable operators.  All those companies are now a part of Comcast or Time-Warner.  We also sold to  many international companies." 
The quality had gone in . . . !

 Bill went on to say-- "A second product was released in 1988 called "PM" for Phase Modulation. The PM product line was created by the same group that gave Zenith the HDTV (High Definition Television), They also developed a product called Z-View. This product led to the development of Cable Modems (almost too early, as we did not have the internet as yet). We also resurrected the Zenith "Phonevision" name for a product that allowed customers  to order pay-per-view movies on the Z-TAC boxes."
A valuable product line was created by Zenith engineers, and it was obviously making money, with a potential for a great deal more money.  But Zenith soon dropped out of the market.  What  happened to this promising business? Very simply, Zenith boxes were based on an analog technology, and  the industry was going digital.  Bill tells the story--

"Zenith ultimately did produce a digital set top box but they were too late to the party. Zenith was approached by the Direct TV people in 1991 but turned them down. This was a Zenith decision.  RCA got the contract and continued to make their boxes for over 15 years.  Had Zenith embarked on this project in 1991,  Zenith  could have been ahead of General Instrument and Scientific Atlanta in digital set top technology. Instead they waited till 1995 to work on a digital product. So Zenith lost the lead. Zenith management embarked on a part of the HDTV system that did return some patent money, but they did not work on a complete system for the CATV industry."

What was left of the Zenith cable business was sold to Motorola.
Motorola played the game smarter.   Made it a huge success . . . . probably No. 2 in sales. Then Google bought Motorola and sold the Motorola Home cable and internet box business to Arris for $2.35 billion.  So if Zenith had only been able to hold  on  to a portion of that cable and internet box business with a viable digital product,  it very likely could have acquired some of that  $2.35 billion.   
Well, as we Zenith people view programs brought to us through a Motorola or other cable box, we can console ourselves  with the thought that within that cable box may lie a  key electronic circuit created by a Zenith engineer. We must take our comfort where we can.
Now let's lighten the mood,  and write about  an incident that occurred in the manufacture of the cable box, wherein there was created The Roach Motel Cable Box.   It seems many of the cable boxes were stored in a warehouse prior to shipping. The warehouse was infested with those insects that have been around since the dinosaurs roamed the earth---the cockroach . . . La Cucaracha! One day, a mother roach decided that a cable box would be an ideal repository for her eggs, and she proceeded to lay a great many within a cable box.
The box was shipped to a lady who kept an immaculate home, one that  had never witnessed  such a thing as a cockroach (horrors!). The box was installed, plugged in, and it warmed to a temperature ideal for the maturation of cockroach eggs.  The baby roaches hatched and poured forth from the box to establish a roach empire. The lady of the house was appalled to discover not one cockroach, but hundreds of them swarming around. 
 Now lets turn to an early achievement by Zenith--  

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 Did You Know . . . that in 1925, Zenith had a large radio transmitting station in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect, Illinois?  Mount Prospect was pretty much "out in the country" then, with few buildings visible nearby. The radio station was housed in what appeared to be an old residence flanked by two tall towers, one of which was emblazoned in huge letters with the name of Zenith Radio Corporation.  Here is a view provided by the Mount Prospect Historical Society, (though the Zenith name is not shown  in this photo)--

                                                  (from Mount Prospect Historical Society)

The story is that the "big bands" of the period performed their music  in a studio in the building, and a Zenith station located in Chicago beamed all its programs to Mount Prospect.  Zenith then  transmitted their music and other programs  throughout the Midwest.  The purpose was to build up the audience of radio listeners--and, to stimulate the sales of Zenith radios, of course.

 The sign on the what looks lto be an early Ford "tin lizzy" truck, shown below, reads:  "Zenith . .  . Portable Radio Broadcasting Studio." The radio on the back of the truck, and to the  left,  appears to be  Karl Hassel's Amplifigon radio signal amplifier.   

                                                           (from Mount Prospect Historical Society)

Members of the station staff:  Does anyone remember their names?  Probably not. The year 1925 was 89 years ago. 
                                                      (from Mount Prospect Historical Society)
When there was history to be made, Zenith was there!

        (Note:  For the photos and historical information, thanks to Lindsay Rice, Executive Director, Mount Prospect Historical Society)                                                       

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Do you recall when almost every home had a TV antenna on the roof?
Those were the days before cable took over the task of bringing the television signal into the home.  The antenna was normally strapped to the chimney, with the signal conductor dangling over the eaves and into the home through a window sill.   The "experts" would have antenna mounted on a mast which could be rotated by hand to retrieve signals from far-away places such as football games played in Milwaukee, and broadcast from there.  


Lightning was always a  threat to all those antennas that bristled  from houses across the nation. A lightning stroke was supposed to be stopped by a separate conductor between the antenna mast and a ground connection that included a “lightning arrestor.” Most often the arrestor worked, but occasionally did not.
Like the case of the housewife sitting comfortably on a sofa with a coffee table at her feet.  Somehow, the lightning bolt got into her house through the television  set and jumped across the coffee table with a resounding BOOM! The lady telephoned her husband to relate the event, and husband heard no sound from the his receiver—she was so frightened she had lost her voice.

The sad case of the Quarter Horse--struck by lightning
(Note: A Quarter Horse is a horse notable for its speed for short distances such as quarter mile.  They  have been clocked at 55 mph. (Very expensive horses, too!)

See Wikipedia for more information
The horse struck by lightning  wasn’t a Quarter Horse, but a retired milk-wagon horse peacefully munching his way through a pasture in his declining years. Dobbin was standing close to a building with a Zenith  antenna on it, and a lightning bolt sprang from the antenna to the horse, joining horsey to his ancestors.  The owner sued  Zenith for the loss of the horse which, as the suit progressed,  changed from an old plug worth perhaps $25 to a Quarter Horse worth  several thousands.

Television sets were regarded with suspicion not only as attractors of lightning, but as fire starters.  If a unexplained fire originated near a Zenith television set, the set was often fingered as the culprit, and Zenith was sued, often.  To prevent fires, the cabinets were made fire-resistant, and if a fire did occur, it was largely contained.  


                                                                   (From Wikipedia, as usual)

But  indeed, television sets  can be alarming to be around—they hum, and sometimes crackle, signalling the presence of the high voltage of, typically, 30,000 volts.  Occasionally, a short will occur in the electron gun with the sound like a rifle shot. Television panel displays, which have almost completely replaced the television picture tube, don't do that. 

There are other drawbacks to picture tubes.  Foremost is their susceptibility to atmospheric pressure--14.2 pounds per  square inch at sea level.  Multiply that  figure by the surface area of a large picture tube of 27 inches (measured across the diagonal of the faceplate) and you have several tons of pressure on that fragile bulb.  Fortunately, glass has immense strength in compression.  But give the tube a sharp rap, and it will implode with a loud bang, and shards of glass with fly, first inwardly, and then outwardly. The electron gun that projects the electron beams toward the faceplate, will fly out the front like bullet. And that is why the front of the tube is shielded with a heavy glass plate. Incidentally that glass plate is loaded with lead to shield viewers from the x-rays generated by the beams.

On that note:  Let's look at another casualty of the destruction of the consumer electronics industry that will be described in a future post--Corning Glass Company.  Corning made millions of the basic television picture tube for Zenith and other companies.  Each tube consisted of a glass funnel on which was keyed a glass faceplate.  Corning used thousands of tons of glass in doing this.  No more.  All gone for Corning.
--but Corning  now makes Gorilla Glass for cell-phones--a unique glass product that resulted from the research  and development that Corning Glass Company is notable for. Companies that endure have done their homework. 

                                                                   *** * * * * *
Now the author will put on his Be Safe hat!  He also writes books about being safe, like his most recent Be Safe book--one  addressed to teen-age girls.  It is titled Be Safe, Girl  and is available through Amazon.com.  It you have a teen-age grand-daughter (yes, most of us  are  of the age to be grandparents!),  keep her safe with a copy of Be Safe, Girl. [End of advertisement]
                                                              * * * * * * * *

Well, now may be the time to put a hold on  the telling of the history of Zenith, and "cut to the chase"-- that is,  tell why Zenith and entire American consumer electronics industry was forced out of business by a criminal cartel. The story will begin in Post 15, first with  the story of the Zenith triumph over an earlier RCA cartel,--then the later criminal cartel also sponsored by RCA --and supported by three administrations of the U.S. government!

(No more will be written about it now, for the author fears retribution--yes--really!-- and that disturbing statement it will be explained as the story unfolds.)

So hold onto your hats for Post 15. It will be a thriller, and if you have ever loved Zenith and what it as a company stood for, you will exult.  Until then--


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