Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Post 25

Announcement.  This will gladden the hearts of all dedicated   former employees of Zenith.  Our  Zenith Book weblog will become a published book! It may  be published by a main-line publisher, or as  an "Indie"-- and independently published book--whichever will reach the most readers. 
  In addition to being a history, or a "reminiscence," of a great American company, it will also be a teaching book--one that every businessman  will want to read.  The business  focus is indicated  by the proposed title, which will now appear as the lead-in to every Post-- 

   A Requiem for Zenith Radio:  Its Rise and Fall, and the Lessons to be 
Learned  From Its Fall

But this happy event will not take place for several months--and if the author lasts long enough to complete the task.  After all, 95 is not a date known for its longevity. But we are all "in God's hands," as Thomas Moore said, so let's look forward with trust and see what  comes to pass.

--now let's see what's in this what's in this Post 25.  
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(Um . . . excelsior  doesn't only  mean  that stringy wood stuff  used for packing boxes, , but more correctly--FORWARD . . . ONWARD to Excellence!

AND that it what Zenith meant to do after the loss of its Second War--go forward, and on to excellence!

It was to going be tough going. Zenith's prime product--television--had been largely subsumed by the Japanese who, for more than 20 years to come, would persist in "low-balling" television prices. ( Of course, they were also busy trying to take over such  American industries as the  the automobile, steel, textiles, etc., apparently with the approbation of the "one-worlders." (Please excuse the writer if he sounds bitter for he is, for after all,  it is Philip Curtis's opinion--and the author's--that  the Japanese had destroyed Zenith, and did it with the active  help of the U.S. Government.)  

Sorry . . . back to the story of Zenith.

What did Zenith need to so to succeed in the future--to actually  stay in business?   What  products did it have that could be exploited?   The radio market was out because it had already been taken over by the Japanese. 

First off,   it was imperative that Zenith  develop landmark improvements in the television technology--improvements so outstanding that  Zenith television products would become  a "must have," and exclusive to Zenith.. . .  products so outstanding that the American public  would find them irresistible. Zenith had made such break-throughs  in the past-- the remote control and the Chromacolor picture tube are just two examples  If Zenith  could only find others of their caliber . . . .

 Secondly, develop new and existing products that are sure sellers,  and many of them!  

What's on the horizon?   Let's make a list--

A watch company. Purchase it, and one already  already named "Zenith." (Already reported on in the previous Post 24.  And more to come!

 Medical Electronics.  Zenith was already No. 1 in hearing aids. It is a rational  step to acquire and/or develop  related  products.  

Cable Modems.  Pay-for-view television was fast becoming a reality. (Unhappily, not the Commander's Phonevision(R)  system!) 

Production of Large Screen Television sets.  That is, screen sizes greater than 30 inches. 

Computers -- develop a computer-based Zenith data system. Viz.,  Zenith computers for the use of individuals and  businesses.

Promote Zenith's Stereophonic Broadcasting system: The MTS Stereo system

Promote high definition televisions, both their  concept and their manufacture.

Promote a 64-inch  rear-projection television system. 

And, from the Government and  Special Products Division--
  Militarization of Zenith commercial products such as the TransOceanic and base station transceivers . . .a paging system . . .  the Uniscope light amplifier" . . . .  proximity fuzes and safe-and-arming mechanisms. . .  and, generally, the  acquisition of  lucrative government contracts
(This Division was described in Post 13.)

Succeeding Posts of this Zenith Book Weblog will cover all these and others, with your help!
So HELP! HELP! Russ Miller has promised to write further on the Zenith Watch company, and if you do the same in your area of expertise, it will be so helpful.  And your name might even be listed as a contributor in the forthcoming book! (Gee, whiz!) 

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                                                   My Dear Old Radio!               

Do you recall an old Zenith radio set that you  loved and wished you still had?  Here is the author’s such radio set,  and it is  long in my memory.  It is a Zenith, of course, one that sat nicely on a table or shelf and played beautiful music—music from the Commander’s radio station WEFM, of course. The set is the  Model X334, a vacuum-tube radio that dates back to 1959. The physical design was probably by Mel Boldt*, Zenith’s long-time  designer of its radios, remote controls, video recorders, and related products.  After about ten years, the radio  began to fail, and I was told that vacuum tube sets are not repairable because the tube sockets lose their springiness, and thus lose the  electrical interconnections.  

So with much sorrow,  I discarded the set,   Since then, I have learned that there are ways to restore the tube-socket interconnections, and am now on a search for another Model X334. I will let you know of my luck I finding one.

 Perhaps there is an engineer among the readership who remembers working on the electrical design of the set. If so, please come forward and tell your story,

*More about Mel Boldt: 
Melvin A. Boldt
Many of you may remember Mel—he was a constant visitor to Zenith.  He headed his own firm,  Mel Boldt Associates, and more than a dozen designers worked for him.  He and his firm designed the prize of them all-- the fabled Trans-Oceanic.  Zenith Radio Corporation owes much of its early success to Mel’s designs.
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Now let’s Take a look into the Zenith’s past in the video media! That  is where Zenith lives on, and where Zenith  seems almost immortal.  —There are lots of sources, much of it on YouTube.  Try some of these addresses. (Or, calling them by their  actual  designation, “URL’s”)--

 The Rise and Fall of ZRC.  Slide show.

This well-made film shows scenes from the Zenith: people you may know, or have known.  Also, buildings, assembly lines, parking lots, skyline scenes--are all shown.   The saddest are the views of old Plant 1 on 6001 West Dickens Avenue, in Chicago,  once so busy, and now so deserted. The film is followed by the story of radio manufacturer, Philco.  The film creator is:  “drh4683”. (Good job, drh!)    

David Sarnoff talks about color television.

As told in the Zenith Book weblog, Philip Curtis considered David Sarnoff to be the nemesis of Zenith and of the entire consumer products industry. Philip Curtis wrote to describe him (to quote*) . . .brilliant and ruthless; . . . one of America’s most notorious industrialists; . . . vindictive; . . . afflicted with a compulsive habit of concocting myths himself;cunning, intensely ambitious; . . grand style of personal aggrandizement, etc etc.*

*These are quoted excerpts from the Philip Curtis book The Fall of the American Consumer Products Industry, An American Trade Tragedy

The story of a pioneer television inventor --a history of Philo T. Farnsworth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKPTrq1s_BQ
This is a long, windy film but it finally gets to the point. And what a wonderful name for a TV pioneer ”— “Philo T. Farnsworth.” It’s got a “ring” to it. And Farnsworth wasn’t really a scientist, but a simple farm boy who got the idea for scanning a picture on a cathode ray tube faceplate when he noted the side-by-side furrows his plow made. “Now. . . “ he thought, “ if you could just impress picture information on those “furrows”. . . (that is, those scanned lines of light-emitting phosphor ) . . . . The rest is history.

Zenith on YouTube. There is a “wealth" of Zenith on YouTube. https://www.yout be.com/results?search_query=Zenith+Radio+Corporation

Zenith Trans-Oceanic on YouTube
Zenith R7000 Transoceanic Shortwave Radio - YouTube
▶ 3:06www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYOtz0dyzng
The radio shown will make you green with envy!! It appears to be a Model 7000-2 (1981. It is superb example of the most recent TransOceanic, and is probably the last of the line of he
Transoceanics. What a conversation piece it would make if it were sitting in a place of honor in your living room.

(I had a TransOceanic, circa 1942. --a  Zenith model No. 6G601M. It was covered with what appeared to be cowhide. I wish I still had it, but long ago I took it apart for radio parts.)

Here is a TransOceanic shown somewhere in India, one riding a camel--

TransOceanics were famous and in use worldwide. Here an explorer named Fullenwinder with a TransOceanic.. (He was no doubt a friend of the Commander, who seemed to know everybody.)   

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Antique Radio Renovation and Repair
It is a popular activity—finding antique Zenith’s and repairing and reconditioning them to appear and play like new. You may be want to try it  yourself. A service that will tell you how to do it is offered on a website titled “Phil’s Old Radios.”  Just click on this address:    http://antiqueradio.org/howfix.htm  and the following image will appear--

                                              ©1995-2015 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved    

The instructions go on to ask and answer a series of questions-- Where can I find someone to fix my radio? . . . Is there a book that I can read?-- etc.

 However, unless you have actually designed and worked on radio sets, such as a Zenith engineer would have done, you are tackling a formidable task in both in learning and applying your skills. 

Best get it repaired.  There are a lot of those who do it.  Just click on this link—

Better Yet! If you cherish antique radios, why not join a club of your fellows?  If you live in Illinois, join the Antique Radio Club of Illinois. The club consists of a nationwide group of 400 radio aficionados dedicated to the preservation of antique radios and related items.  www.antique-radios.org  Zenith radios are there, of course. Below is a photo taken at a recent radio club swap meet--                                 
How did that clock get in there?
Antique radio clubs are located all over the country.  One in California—called the Southern California Antique Radio Society, or SCARS, is an example.  Click on this URL:  www.antiqueradio.org to see what they offer the potential antique radio collector. (Note to Howard Lange, who moved to California:  Howard, here is a hobby for your retirement years--when you are not hiking canyons!)

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Now, more about the “Phil” of Phil’s Old Radios. His full name is Philip Nelson. His “Welcome page” address is http://www.antiqueradio.org/welcome.htm
Philip Nelson
 When you open his welcome page, you will see a list of subjects to click on.  As you successively review them you see a number of subjects and exhibits--a large gallery of vintage radios;  how to restore radios for beginners; information for radio  lovers, especially beginners.  In features, special articles are shown, such as the U.S. patent drawing for a TransOceanic radio set. It was created by Robert Budlong of Zenith who designed many of Zenith's radios. 

Now, view the repair of one of Zenith’s first television sets as guided by Phil.  Click on http://www.antiqueradio.org/welcome.htm, select “Sitemap”   and scroll way, way down a long list of all the radios and televisions Phil has repaired through the years. There you will find the following description—

Zenith Model T1816R Television (1955)--

Phil wrote:  “People either love or hate the design of this classic 1950's black and white television. I belong to the 'love it' camp. With rounded, futuristic lines and cat's-eye shaped knobs on either side of the screen, it reminds me of a robot or space alien.”

Made in 1955, this large metal-cased TV was designed to sit on a table or a stand. The cabinet is dark maroon with a contrasting silver bezel and gold accents in the knobs. The Zenith name appears in raised letters at the top of the bezel, and there is a small gold metal Zenith logo on the control panel at the top.

 Phil wrote: “It has a sixteen-inch screen and it seems to weigh about sixteen tons! I purchased this set for $35 in January, 1998.”

Phil goes on to describe in great detail how he repaired it and made it play again.

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It is noted that Model T1816R shown previously was not Zenith’s first television set.  There was a much earlier one—an experimental model,  featured in an earlier Post of this Weblog—Post 7.  The original  story below was copied from the Zenith Magazine, Zenith ServiceWorld,  published in 1974.

 Here is Brian Mahronic, National Service Manager, with an experimental model built in 1939. "Bronc"--as he was widely called--and his family watched it for several years before replacing it with one of Zenith's first production models. Then the set was banished to the basement.
   The only television station in Chicago at the time was W9XCV, an experimental station built, of course, by Zenith--another one of Zenith's famous "firsts."
   Mario Bertucci of the Zenith cabinet shop did the refinishing. The cabinet is a beauty of blond oak, with a hand-rubbed finish. Even today, it would be a credit to any living room.
   Because the early picture tubes were so long, it was necessary to mount the tube vertically and project the image on a mirror mounted on the inside of the slanting lid.

Bronc and Henry Duncan, one of Joe Smith's electronic repair wizards, made it play again. It wasn't difficult--the tuner was cleaned, the electrolytic capacitors, which the years had dried out, were replaced, and a few adjustments were made. The radio also plays again, and plays with the surprising sound of a Zenith.

The power supply was a hazard during the repair --it was a "brute force" power supply in which  in the high voltage was built up in stages, with an amperage high enough to "melt your fillings" if you got in the way of it. Later television tubes used a much higher voltage of 30,000, but it was more like a static charge that would give you a tingle--but your fillings were safe.

 It plays again!
 Here is a photo of the mirrored image as the set received Channel 2.

The monochrome picture tubes of Zenith's 1974 12-inch models are 25 times as bright. Yet the old set still provides a viewable picture. It happened by chance that, while the image was being photographed, a Clark Gable movie was being shown. Do you recall "It Started in Naples," starring Clark Gable and Sophia Loren?
(Note:  We must wonder where that set is now, and whether it is still operating.  After all, the article above was  published in Zenith Serviceworld magazine in 1974, 41 years ago! If found, it would be worth a pile$.) 
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Two women were talking (overheard by the author!) while wading in the warm-water pool of the Gottlieb Hospital Health Center, located on the west side of Chicago.
One woman asked: “Do you remember the Zenith ‘porthole’ television set—the one with the round picture window?”.
“Yes,” the other answered. “It was the television set of ‘Mr. Zenith’–Commander McDonald.”                                                                 
"Mr. Zenith"!
The two were recalling Commander Eugene F. McDonald, Jr., the founders and long-time President of Zenith Radio Corporation, and widely-known as "Mr. Zenith." And they were speaking about a Zenith television set that had  appeared on the market 30 years before that conversation in the warm water swimming pool! 

 Such was the legend of Commander McDonald and Zenith in Chicago!

 About that porthole television set--It all came about because Commander McDonald took a personal and intense interest in every aspect of a Zenith manufactured item before it left the factory.Every Zenith product had to meet the credo The Quality Goes in Before the Name Goes On! So McDonald examined  every television set before it went into production. One day, he was shown the latest model, one however without the escutcheon—that rectangular metal plate that encloses the face of the picture tube and defines the televised image. The escutcheon was not  ready, but McDonald insisted on seeing the set anyway. So he was shown a cabinet from which projected a round picture tube—but no picture-outlining escutcheon.

   He loved it! Perhaps it recalled his days as a Naval Commander and the times he spent at sea peering out of portholes. And that television set went into production and on the market, and had a successful sales run. This despite the fact that the transmitted picture was not round, but rectangular! The American public loved it anyway because it was a Zenith!

The Porthole TV, with Jack Benny  (YouTube) 
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The Philanthropy of Eugene Francis McDonald, Jr.

Despite his often rough  speech  and the  stern actions  made necessary by his role as the chief executive,  McDonald had a kind heart.  Five 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.  He was also sympathetic about 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. 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.”  The first Zenith hearing aids were priced at $40—far below the hundreds of dollars being charged at the time by other manufacturers. Zenith became so successful  in the sales of hearing aids that it achieved the No. 1 ranking in hearing aid sales
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 early. He immediately made its detection and treatment available to all Zenith woman 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 McDonald  believed  ought to have its own “voice” in the community. McDonald’s opinion was based upon the treatment of the early Irish who  emigrated to the United States,  a treatment typified by the signs “No Irish need apply,” that confronted Irish job seekers.  McDonald  also had an African-American friend, Matthew Henson, a fellow explorer who had accompanied McDonald on his expedition to the Arctic.  He learned that the organizers  of Ebony Magazine was struggling to find the start-up money to begin publication, so McDonald helped fund  the publication of the first issues. 

The fourth example is, of course, McDonald’s setting up the Zenith profit-sharing plan for his employees.  It was perhaps the most generous of such plans ever conceived and put into practice.  McDonald believed that his employees should share in any profit, for after all, it was their work  that  made that profit  possible.     During the Great Depression  of 1929-1940, and knowing that  Zenith was struggling to stay afloat,  many employees showed their dedication to Zenith by voluntarily reducing or refusing their salaries. When Zenith began to recover,  McDonald repaid them, and showed his appreciation by sharing the dividend normally meant for the stockholders—with the employees.  (Was there ever another such a company to do this in all of American’s history?)

An early  pioneer employee of Zenith—Gene Polley—said that the original profit sharing would be as much as  10 to 15 percent of salary  When John Nevin took control as President and Chief Operating Officer,  he reduced the profit-sharing amount to between 4 and 8 per cent, with  the share dependent on Zenith’s profit.  From that time on, it never exceeded 4 per cent, as Zenith’s “days of clover” when it could pay more,  were over.  Yet whatever the amount, Zenith never failed to pay profit sharing, even during  the last days of approaching bankruptcy.

We former employees all acknowledge what the profit-sharing plan has meant to us—for most, a well-funded retirement.    To those who were laid off because of hard times for Zenith, it meant money to “ tide them over”  until they could find  another job. (Such hard times  time will be soon described in forthcoming Posts.)

The fifth example of a philanthropic act is a surprising one—the recipient  was United States government! After the war ended, McDonald calculated that Zenith had made too much profit from its defense contracts,  and refunded monies he thought were unfairly earned.

(The procurement agencies  thought this was a great idea—the return of “excess” profits on contracts with the government. So from then on, it was a clause written into major defense contracts  In all fairness, procurement agencies have often “forgiven” contractors who failed to meet their contractual obligations.  Rather than penalizing the errant contractor, the agencies would settle for accepting whatever the contractor had produced, and would inflict no penalties.  This happened to Zenith’s Government and Special Products Division, which, on two occasions,  failed to produce equipment that met contractual requirements.)

So let us all pay tribute to Eugene Frances McDonald, Jr. –our benefactor!
Eugene Francis McDonald, Jr.
This was his last portrait. He was soon to die from throat cancer. Marianne wrote me to relate that, on the night before he died, he had a milkshake with a shot of brandy in it—all that he could ingest for several days. 

If only had lived a few more years, perhaps he could have set Zenith on a firmer path to a longer existence as an independent company.

We  will not see his like again.  And his passing was a loss from which Zenith could never recover. 

Requiescat in pace.
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 And so ends Post 25, and a fitting end it is. 

Next time, we'll look at some of those "hopefuls" described earlier in this Post, and by which Zenith might survive.  

Please keep your comments coming--they are greatly encouraging to someone who is doing a very difficult job, in which each word written often seems like drawing a drop of blood.  (Sob!)   




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  1. About 30% of my radio collection is comprised of Zeniths. They''re my favorite radios and one which my parents owned (a 1952 J615 model) is what got me started collecting. They are usually the easiest to repair and restore.

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