Thursday, April 23, 2015

Post 27

THIS POST TELLS MORE ABOUT OUR FAVORITE "COMMANDER"--Eugene Francis McDonald, Jr., founder of Zenith Radio Corporation, and his  Arctic adventure that brought Zenith nation-wide and world-wide fame. 

                             Commander McDonald Explores the Arctic                  

The following account of McDonald’s adventures in the arctic is derived in part from a book titled “dangerous crossings,” written by the two “radio professors," so titled because they wrote so much of the history of Zenith, and were actually full-time college professors (now retired). They are John H. Bryant and Harold R. Cones. Here is a copy of the cover of their book--
                          ( Explorer Harold MacMillan is shown in Inuit (Eskimo) winter garb.)

  This book  will be an invaluable addition to your Zenith Library.($1.99 new and used) from Amazon.com.   amazon.com

You may recall what Karl Hassel, one the founders of Zenith, had described  how Zenith got its start. Hassel had personally delivered and installed a “Znith” radio set in McDonald’s room at the Illinois Athletic Club in Chicago. Hassel described McDonald’s enthusiastic response to his marvelous acquisition.  “He figured that if  people could sit in Chicago and listen to music from Pittsburgh , there must something to this radio business. So he decided to put some money into this thing and get it going.”
Karl Hassel
Hassel and his partner, R.G.E. Mathews, had a small company that was granted a license for the Edward Armstrong patents. Armstrong was an early radio inventor who  can be classed as a “genius” in that he created radio circuits such as the super heterodyne, which continues in use today, and later, FM radio. However, the license was not transferable. McDonald wanted to be a part of the company, but could not under the terms of the Armstrong license.

In his years in the automobile business, McDonald had gained “business acumen,” which both Hassel and Mathews lacked. (As did most other ambitious, first-time radio amateurs, of which there must have been hundreds all anxious to get into the promising radio business, but ill-equipped to do so based on lack of business experience. )

McDonald formed a corporation by which he was able to take over the Hassel-Mathews business and the Armstrong license.  The corporation (of which he was the president, of course), issued 30,000 shares of stock priced at $10 a share, more than half of which McDonald purchased to finance the promising company. (Too bad we weren’t there to purchase some of that stock, which had yielded the most incredible returns—like 24,146 per cent!)

But how was McDonald to make “Znith” outstanding, not only in the United States, but also in the world? There were a lot of competitors that had also formed companies and were ready offer the magical radio sets, which to the American consumer, were a “must-have.” Something was called for to stand “Znith” out from the crowd. What was McDonald to do?

FIRST STEP: McDonald founded a radio-based organization-- The “NAB”—the National Association of Broadcasters.
The NAB is still going strong. In fact, Walt Ciciora  attended the meeting in New York in April.

McDonald was a “natural" in radio broadcasting and announcing with his deep, resonant voice. This ability was shown in his world-wide broadcast of his adventures in the Arctic, as will be shown.

SECOND STEP:  McDonald became an Arctic explorer!  In 1925, McDonald’s friend, Lt. Commander Donald B. MacMillan, was planning an exploration of an vast, unknown mass of land known as “Crocker Land” located within the Arctic circle, an area of a million square miles. Crocker Land consisted of a sea of ice that stayed solid most of the year, and rarely melted to permit the entry or passage of ships. The land was said to have mountains glimpsed in the distance. Very intriguing, and a sure stepping-stone to the North Pole.
MacMillan and McDonald

McDonald joined the McMillan expedition and become the second in command. He was able to do so because he had retained his Navy officer’s commission and his rank of Lt. Commander, equal to that of MacMillan.

(Lt. Commander Richard  Byrd (later, Admiral Byrd) reputed to be the first to visitor the North Pole, also played a part in the expedition.)

The first explorers of the far north were actually searching  for the fabled Northwest Passage, which was thought to be a route directly through the North American continent to India, thus avoiding the much longer passage from Europe and around Cape Horn of South America. (The passage had always been frozen over, but it now may be opening--if global warming has its way.)

The area of exploration was to be the mysterious “Crocker Land, shown as “unexplored” in the following map.

The expedition had two ships--the Bowdoin commanded by MacMillan, and the Peary, commanded by McDonald. No good photo of McDonald’s ship is pictured in the book, but here is a photo of the Bowdoin—

It was a motorized sailing vessel, one especially reinforced with iron plates to withstand the pressure of freezing ice on its sides. It was well that it was so reinforced, for it was later trapped in the ice.  

A special feature of the expedition were three of the Navy’s Loening amphibian aircraft. manufactured by the Loening Airplane Company. 


They looked like a flying boxcar (and probably flew like one). The wings were separable from the fuselage and were carried to the assembly site in boxes.

The planes sported a “liberty” engine which was mounted upside down to get the propeller up and away from the water.

The upside down mounting made the flow of the lubricating oil uncertain. (One of the engines eventually threw a connecting rod.) But the Loening amphibians were the best to be had at the time (1925). In addition to the chancy aircraft, if trouble occurred, there was  very little space where a flier could land. If an engine failed over land, it would be forced to crash-land on a field of ice much like a field of boulders. And if over water, the Arctic seas were often dangerously  choppy.  In short, it was a very dangerous expedition. But the explorers were very lucky that no major accident occurred, as any such accident would  inevitably be fatal.

--and those were the “dangerous crossings” of the book title, in which any travel in the Arctic, whether by plane or boat or on foot, was by its nature, life-threatening.

But the major objectives of the exploration were achieved. New areas of the arctic were opened up for further exploration, especially the route to the North Pole. And McDonald  achieved his objectives, which were (1) showing the world the efficacy of “short wave” radio transmission, and (2), proclaiming to the world that there existed a new company in America named--    

                                       !!! Zenith Radio Corporation !!!  

McDonald wrote: “We will write radio history in the north this summer.”

And that is just what he did. He did it by exploiting the ability of radio to broadcast from the far north by means of what are called “short radio waves.”  

Now, about waves, which connote  the frequencies by which the radio signals are transmitted and received. First, there are the “low” frequency radio waves used in the broadcast band, which comprise frequencies  primarily used for regional programming; that is, programming designed reception in  cities and other large population centers. These waves are amplitude modulated and operate in 535 kHz to 1.7 MHz range. Radio stations WGN and WBBM in Chicago, are examples. Such broadcasts are termed “line-of-sight, because the signals  do not travel much beyond the horizon, but sail right on out into space. To extend the range, broadcasting antennas are usually located on the highest building available.

But shorter radio waves and waves of "medium" frequency can travel much farther  because of the existence of a natural phenomenon known as “the heaviside layer.” Here is Wikipedia’s definition:  “ . . the Heaviside layer, is a layer of ionized gas occurring between roughly 90–150 km (56–93 mi) above the ground — one of several layers in the Earth's ionosphere. It reflects medium-frequency radio waves, and because of this reflection, radio waves can be propagated beyond the horizon.” (Note: (Without that layer, we humans would be baked like so many cookies under the barrage of infrared radiation directly from the sun.)

So radio waves of a medium frequency can travel for thousands of miles because they “bounce”--that is, they are reflected between the ionized layer and the earth. Although not an electrical engineer, McDonald was well aware of this capability and made effective use of it. He had Hassel and Matthews design a short-wave transmitter, which sported the name “Znith” of course. MacMillan is shown with  the transmitter in the following photo. Note the “wet” cell batteries on the floor that supplied the power.
MacMillan operating the Zenith short-wave transmitter

Using this transmitter, McDonald was able to transmit his messages to the United States and to the world. There were not many receiving stations for the signals at that time, but there were the amateur radio operators who were happy to relay McDonald’s messages to the newspapers and to the few commercial radio stations then in use.

The radio amateurs, also called "hams," join the ARRL--the American Radio Relay League.
ARRL logo
Like the NAB-National Association of Broadcasters, the ARRL still exists, and is flourishing. Its members provide an invaluable service by acting in support of the standard emergency services

McDonald was the radio announcer, of course. He was equipped for it, with that pleasant baritone voice. (And remember, he had founded the National Association of Broadcasters, perhaps just for this purpose!)


In daily broadcasts, McDonald told the world what was going on in that far-distant expedition, and relayed messages between members of the expedition and their families, so they were in near-instant touch. This capacity was a great boon to all explorers who had previously been cut off from the world for months at a time. And it would have saved the lives of past explorers of the Arctic and Antarctic who had perished in frozen isolation because of inability to communicate with the outside world. Here  are the names of four--
  • John Franklin, lost when exploring the Northwest Passage,
  • Robert Scott, lost when exploring the Antarctic,
  • Vladimir Rusanof, lost when exploring the North Sea Passage,
  • Adolphus Greeley, who died of starvation with his crew of 19 on Ellesmere Island.
(Note that Franklin and Greeley had been lost in the area of the MacMillan-McDonald exploration.)                                      

McDonald also broadcast the singing of the Inuits (pron. “In-you-its”) who are an indigenous peoples that inhabit the Arctic regions of Greenland. (The Inuits and other natives of the Arctic and Antarctic are popularly called “eskimos”, which is a term no longer in favor.) McDonald simply set a microphone before a group of them and asked them to sing, and they did, to the delight of listeners nationwide.

The Inuits were a most valuable adjunct to the expedition. The Arctic was their home-grounds, and their guidance and advice to the explorers were a major factor in the success of the expedition. (We must wonder now how the Inuits have been affected by global warming. The polar bears aren't happy with it.))

But the most important of McDonald’s accomplishments is the showing the value of short radio waves in long-range communication. As a result, the navies and maritime services of the world soon traded in their long-wave systems for the more reliable and effective shorter radio wavelengths. And another benefit was that expeditions to remote parts of the world were no longer cut off from contact with civilization for months and years at a time. If an expedition to any remote part of the world ran into trouble, help could be summoned. Also, explorers no longer faced the terrible loneliness of long months and years away from contact with home and family.   

--and of course, the benefit is that Zenith Radio Corporation was that it was now  known nationally and internationally. And customers in 1925 were lining  up to buy Zenith products!
                                                               * * * * * * * *

 Many years later, McDonald received a present of a set of walrus tusks, perhaps from one of his Inuit friends—

He looks rather bemused with his gift. A pair of huge teeth hanging from a wall is hardly as attractive a trophy as a deer head with antlers.

Another rare photo shows McDonald playing pool with his children, also many years later.


Marianne is shown with Eugene F. McDonald, III. (The bandage on Marianne’s wrist covers a break. “I was always doing things like that,” she wrote. When she read this account, she responded: “Also, about the cast, my saying I was always doing things like that, is not that I simply was a “klutz”: I was daring-- like my father, and that guarantees accidents.”)

 And now--                                                                                                        
Marianne at 65

                                                                                      * * * * * * * *

A general note for those who love the digital world we live in-- 

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.
Well worth a visit!

                                                           * * * * * * * *
One often wonders what happened to the companies that were “spun off” from the parent company as, for example, the “ZRRC’s”—the Zenith Radio Research Corporations established by Bob Adler.   There were three of them,  I believe, located  in England, Canada and California.  Their prime purpose was to keep track of any developments in those areas for the benefit of “big” Zenith, and to do research and development leading to new products. When John Nevin took over the presidency of Zenith, Nevin visited each one and posed the question: “Can you survive  as a company without  a subsidy from Zenith?”  He received an answerno.  So all the ZRRC’s were terminated. (Note: Nevin saw no need for in-house research.  It is said that he told Bob Adler:  “If you need research, you can buy it from outside.)

SO—what happened to the ZRRC’s and those that they employed?  The fate of one—the Zenith Radio Research Corporation of California, is told in a recent  email from John Lindley, a former employee of ZRRC. He writes:

It (the termination) happened in mid-December 1972, when everyone received a  letter announcing the closing. It looked like we would all be searching for work before Christmas.  Midweek, we got a letter from John Nevin wishing us “Peace, Joy and Prosperity” for the New Year.  At the end of the year there was Christmas party.   Nevin was not highly respected at that event. 

“However, many of the  ZRRC employees were taken on a newly formed company, Applied Technology Inc. (ITEK  for short) It was a company founded by Dr. John  Grigsby and William Ayres, both Stanford graduates, and both employed at the Stanford Electronics Laboratory. 
ITEK Plant
“Grigsby and Ayres  had developed the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) system just as the Vietnamese were beginning to shoot down our aircraft. The Navy and the Air Force wanted RWR’s built in a hurry.  Applied Technology expanding from Palo Valley to Sunnyvale about the time ZRRC was closing, and so  it took on the ZRRC people to help with the effort.” 
(More about ITEK--Applied Technology will be found on the invaluable Wikipedia, on the URL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itek )

Lindley continued:  “That the ZRRC employees were taken on was by fortunate chance in that Bert Crumly (Ph.D., Stanford) who had transferred from Zenith in Chicago to work for ZRRC.  Crumly knew Dr. John Grigsby, and introduced him to Dr. Curt Foster, then the manager  of ZRRC. Along with many of the employees, ITEK also took on  the manufacture and sale of Bob Adler’s EBPA—the electron beam parametric amplifier.  Bob Cohoon, also originally from Zenith, was appointed Chief Engineer of EBPA production.  EBPA production continued at the rate of 5 or 10 a week.”

Author’s Note:  The signal sensitivity of the EBPA was so acute that they were in demand for use in the big space telescopes.  And most important, they were almost immune to signal overload (unlike the low-noise diode.) About 5,000 of the EBPA’s were sold..   If that doesn’t seem  large number,  know that  the EBPA’s were expensive tubes. Zenith made money in the manufacture and sale of the EBPA—a credit to the inventorship of Robert  Adler. 

Robert Adler (in 1955)  

(Bob is very young, here. Were any of us ever  that young?) 

So, that is one lost Zenith branch accounted forZenith Radio Corporation of California.  And like so many of the engineers and other employees of The branch  “riffed” by  Zenith, they very soon found re-employment because of their very evident value. 

But what became of  the ninety  Zenith Distributors which were so essential to maintaining the famous Zenith reputation for quality?  The author of this weblog  tried to locate some of those he had reported on for the Zenith  ServiceWorld magazine,  but was unable to find them.  If any reader knows of the  fate of the Zenith Distributors , please (like John Lindley) let me know.    

                                                                     * * * * * * * * *
So that ends Post 27 of the Zenith Book weblog. And here ends  the bi-monthly publishing of this weblog.  From now on, it will be a monthly, hopefully on the first of each month.  It is just getting too much for me at my tender age (going on 96), and the words are coming slower and harder. 

Also,  I must now turn attention to a "Zenith book," which requires a lot of searching of the 27 Posts , and selecting the best bits.  I hope to attract a major publisher rather than go as an "Indie." (Independent; that is "self-published.") I have worked with both, and neither is a simple thing to accomplish.



(An early photo, taken  40 years ago, when I had more hair.) 

Ralph E. Clarke is a long-time professional writer and the author of five books and many  movie and sound-slide scripts, magazine articles, novels, short stories, and plays.  He is also registered  with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to practice patent law.  His specialty is writing works on personal safety, such as Be Safe, Girl.

Here is one of my Be Safe Tips--

Be Safe Tip —Shut off the home water supply when you are away from home for an extended period Why?  Two reasons—
1.      The water pipe in an upstairs bath broke.  The  owner returned from a two-weeks vacation to find water running down the stairs like a waterfall.  The stairs were warped, rugs were soaked, and the furniture veneer had peeled. Mold and fungus was running riot. Cost to repair?—many thou$and$. 

.     Mischievous kids turned on all the yard faucets and let them run.  The owner comes home to a huge water bill. Best to have a neighbor watch the house while you are away.