Saturday, May 30, 2015

Post 28. Moving to Mexico

Zenith is Forced to Move Production to Mexico and Taiwan

Following that fateful Supreme Court  decision,  in which  the predatory tactics of the Japanese cartel, with its dumping and cut-throat  pricing,  had received the approval  of the Supreme Court of the United States,  Zenith was facing  a continual loss from lagging television sales. Television had become a commodity--a common product much  like a dishwasher or an oven.  Try  as it might, Zenith just could not compete with Japanese-priced television sets. Profit margins became so slim that Zenith was forced to follow the lead of other manufacturers; that is, to seek cheap labor by going "overseas"--overseas being primarily Mexico, and to a much smaller extent, Taiwan.   The difference in labor cost--$1 an hour in Mexico to $14 an hour in the U.S.--was just too much to overcome. The victory of the Sarnoff-Japanese cartel described by Philip Curtis was complete.

--which led to the decision by Zenith management that Zenith had to find a country where  labor was less expensive; that is, relocate is major product facilities outside of the United States. Zenith was only following the lead of other consumer electronic product companies, and was the last to do so.

What that decision meant is that Zenith had to sell all its factories  and other production facilities located in the continental United State; in short, find a country where  labor was far less expensive and move production there.  Mexico, just over the border of continental United States, was selected. As noted, some production was also to be moved to Taiwan.   

But for a few  years after that fatal Supreme Court decision,  it was believed that Zenith  could  compete with the Japanese cartel despite the illegal dumping and cut-throat pricing,  which not only continued unabated,  but even increased, 

It wasn’t  that Zenith didn’t try to compete.  Do you remember the fellow who worked in production, and who was selected to pose as a model by an ad agency?

It wasn’t bunk.  Zenith really couldn’t compete with that labor cost differential.  And this ad is only the tip of the tremendous effort Zenith made to stay in the United States.  (Note:  this Zenith worker, got laid off, too.) 

During  a meeting  of Zenith executives, described as being “very emotional,”   the decision was made to move production  to Mexico.   Leaving the continental United States  meant going against Zenith's tradition of being an "All -American" company." It also meant the selling of all Zenith  factories and the laying off most of Zenith's production employees. It also meant immense hardship and disruption of the lives of those employees.

All were sold.

(Not shown is  the Wincharger  plant and the many other minor plants that had supported the major  plants,  such as cabinet factories and parts suppliers.  The total sale was for all the plants that  had employed so  many thousands of Americans.) 

The Rauland picture tube plant was an exception to the sale, for there is no way the equipment in that plant, nor its engineering and production expertise, could be moved anywhere. (Its closing was yet to come.)

The facilities  are all gone, now. The properties are still there, of course,  but no longer owned by Zenith. The hardest hit were the plants located on Chicago’s West Side--Plants 1, 2 and 5, which had employed the core employees.  –and which had provided employment for so many west-siders.  The main  management plants—plant 1 on Austin Boulevard in Chicago, and the  plant Glenview-- were kept  of course, for managements were still essential.

The move also meant the buying and setting up manufacturing plants in a foreign country, and the training of Mexican employees.  It was a task aided by the fact that the Mexicans were very willing and hard-working, and delighted  to have the work. 

John Nevin
But that agonizing decision to move had such an unhappy effect on hard-driving John Nevin that it affected his health. It was  rumored that his despondency was so great that he required hospitalization for depression. He no doubt  had recalled the distress  his own family had suffered from loss of his  family home during the great depression of 1929-1940. And of course all the other employees who loved Zenith suffered as well. It was a sad time for all. It was a time when the nervous breakdown became a common occurrence among those either threatened with lay-off, or were really laid off—out of a job! 

And it was predicted that, if Zenith production had not moved when  it did, it  would have been forced  out of business in two years! 

Zenith was faced with an immense task –an almost impossible task—to move its entire production facilities to a foreign country where  very few were trained to work in factories, and where there were almost no buildings to house such an enterprise.  And consider the cost!  Zenith had suffered losses for years in trying to fight off the Japanese cartel, and really did not have the resources to make the move. 

Money was needed for the move of course--much money! So for weeks thereafter, the  auction pages  of the Chicago Tribune were filled  with  the sale of Zenith equipment --all those wonderful giant presses and those  production machines and conveyors  that were  the pride of McDonald, were sold  to the highest bidders.  Much of the machinery  was too heavy to pack up and move thousands of miles and over the border.  All the factory buildings  located in America didn't bring as much as hoped,  for they were purposed mainly  for the  manufacture of radio and television sets.  

Zenith's core plant--dear old Plant 1 at 6001 W. Dickens Avenue in Chicago--once a bee-hive of activity, never did sell.  It sits  abandoned today.
Plant 1 on Dickens Avenue as it appears today.
And so Zenith was able to survive And what became  to all the those employed by those plants—the assemblers, testers, stockmen, repairmen, quality controllers, plant managers, technicians, parts stockers, warehousemen, janitors, guards—and many et ceteras?  Laid off, except those whose could be used to help in the transition.   Laid off Cold turkey. So unlike the Zenith of Eugene F. McDonald, and the Zenith  traditions.  But it had to be. 

And so it was done.  And so Zenith was able to struggle along  for another 30 years before entering bankruptcy. 

A few of the laid off were able to retire, but most of them had to find a new job. They were tided over of course by a unique feature of Zenith—profit sharing!—the  creation of McDonald!

In 1980, Forbes Magazine—0ne of the best of American business magazines—published an article on a study of 1,500 of the laid-off Zenith workers in Chicago.  The article is titled “Starting Over in Chicago.”   It was found that a few had retired, that 70 per cent of them had found jobs, some better paying, and others paid not so much as they  as they had been making at Zenith.  The remainder were still unemployed.

And what became of Zenith itself?  It was able to struggle along for another 30 years before it entered bankruptcy, and then, there was no more Zenith Radio Corporation or, as renamed, Zenith Radio Corporation. The Zenith we knew had lasted  for 76 years. 

But there were some good years to come. 

                                                           * * * * * * * *

After reading about the sad move of production to Mexico, you are perhaps   depressed and need cheering up.  This will make you laugh while bringing  back fond memories of your  early days  you may have forgotten.  It was written by the remarkable Linguist, Richard Lederer.   

Lederer wrote: "About a month ago, I illuminated old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology. These phrases included don't touch that dial, carbon copy, you sound like a broken record and hung out to dry. A bevy of readers have asked me to shine light on more faded words and expressions, and I am happy to oblige.”

And here we go, back in time--back to the days of our youth--

"Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie. We'd put on our best bib and tucker and straighten up and fly right. Hubba-hubba! We'd cut a rug in some juke joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing and cooing and pitching woo in hot rods and jalopies in some passion pit or lovers' lane. Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumpin' Jehoshaphat! Holy moley! We were in like Flynn and living the life of Riley, and even a regular guy couldn't accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill. Not for all the tea in China !

"Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when's the last time anything was swell? Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the D.A.; of spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and pedal pushers. Oh, my aching back. Kilroy was here, but he isn't anymore.

"Like Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle and Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, we have become unstuck in time. We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and before we can say, "I'll be a monkey's uncle!" or "This is a fine kettle of fish!" we discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.

"Where have all those phrases gone? Long time passing. The milkman did it. Think about the starving Armenians. Bigger than a bread box. Banned in Boston. The very idea! It's your nickel. Don't forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper. Turn-of-the-century. Iron curtain. Domino theory. Fail safe. Civil defense. Fiddlesticks! You look like the wreck of the Hesperus. Cooties. Going like sixty. I'll see you in the funny papers. Don't take any wooden nickels. Heavens to Murgatroyd! And awa-a-ay we go! Oh, my stars and garters! It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than Carter had liver pills.

:This can be disturbing stuff, this winking out of the words of our youth, these words that lodge in our heart's deep core. But just as one never steps into the same river twice, one cannot step into the same language twice. Even as one enters, words are swept downstream into the past, forever making a different river.

"We, of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeful times. For a child each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age. We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words that once did not exist and there were words that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective memory. It's one of the greatest advantages of aging. We can have archaic and eat it, too." (Note:  What a terrible pun!)
--Sent to us by my old friend, Don Gayle.  Don and I used to share the job of technical writing for the Military and Special Products Division located in Plant 5, on Grand Avenue.  We wrote instruction manuals, engineering reports on the products of the Division, and scads of proposals for government contracts which earned the Division and Zenith several millions  of dollars. Those were happy days!
Here is Don with wife Sharon in a recent photo--


                                                                 * * * * * * *                                                                  

A Wall-Paper Thin Television Panel

LG shows just how thin the "wallpaper" TV is

LG Display, the screen-making subsidiary of LG, is dedicated to making  OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes), and it has unveiled an impossibly thin television to prove it.
At a press event in its home country of Korea on Tuesday, LG Display showed off a "wallpaper" proof-of-concept television. The 55-inch OLEDdisplay weighs 1.9 kilograms and is less than a millimeter thick. Thanks to a magnetic mat that sits behind it on the wall, the TV can be stuck to a wall. To remove the display from the wall, you peel the screen off the mat.
The unveiling was part of a broader announcement by LG Display to showcase its plans for the future. The company said its display strategy will center on OLED technology. According to a press release, the head of LG Display's OLED business unit, Sang-Deog  Yeo, said “OLED represents a groundbreaking technology, not only for the company, but also for the industry.”
His comment echoes the refrain consumers have been hearing for years as display technology has evolved. The HD craze kicked into high gear years ago with technologies like LCD (liquid crystal display) and plasma, but has since been moving increasingly toward LED technology.

(Thanks to Howard Lange for sending this news note! And the rest of you, if you find something equally  incredible, please sent it to me so the rest of us can see it. (And why do they always show some toothsome babe demonstrating it instead of the hard-working whiz of an engineer who thought it all up?  (Shut up, you old grouch!

--and, why not join the source of this news?-- www.cnet.com Lots of fascinating stuff, like this news from LG. 
                                                             * * * * * * * *
  Announcing a New Feature of the Zenith Book Weblog!

  "--periodically publishing  a selected work of one of Zenith's stellar engineers."

          Walter S.Ciciora                  

 Zenith’s reputation through the years has been marked by  its employment of outstanding scientists and engineers, as typified by  Robert Adler and Carl Eilers.  Walter Ciciora is numbered among them. Many of Zenith’s engineering staff will remember “Walt,” as he was usually called. He played the roles of a teacher and an engineering manager who always shared the credit for the new developments of his staff. He will be long remembered by those who worked for him and with him.

Walt tells a bit about his background and his experience with Zenith--

“After graduating with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT),  in 1969, I went to work for Zenith in the R and D department while also teaching courses in the evening division of IIT.  The courses were in communication theory and digital electronics.  After a couple of years, Zenith asked if I would teach those courses in-house for some of the engineers on staff, not for college credit, of course.  I did, and the courses were well received and led to a strong interest in applying digital techniques to television receivers. (New engineering hires came already equipped with digital backgrounds.) "

Walt  has written a histories of the development of the products that brought Zenith so much success. The following text comprises excerpts  from his paper titled Zenith and the ‘Information Age.’ Comments on Zenith Cable and Subscription Television and Teletext” Because of its length and the  invaluable details of the paper, it will be offered in installments: one each of the installments in coming Posts of this Weblog.  The first installment covers Walt’s work with television signals, and the problem with television multipath.  
                                               Installment One
                                      by Walter S. Ciciora, Ph.D.

Zenith was a pioneer in the “New Media” age of consumer data communications involving personal computers, cable and interactive text services.  Zenith acquired Heathkit of Benton Harbor Michigan in 1977 based on their personal computer.  Zenith Data Systems became a division of Zenith Electronics in 1979.  This is an exciting story best told by those directly involved. 

All of Zenith’s engineers tried to come up with reasons why they should have a Zenith computer on their desks.  At that time, we had a project in R and D to ameliorate the deleterious effects of television signal multipath.  When a television signal was reflected off of a building, mountain, train or airplane, it arrived at the receiver a little later than the direct signal.  This caused the reflected signal to be seen as a “ghost” image on the television screen, and displaced a small distance to one side, and dimmer.  If it came from an airplane reflection, the signal would flicker in and out of the picture.  If the reflections came from things close to the transmitting antenna, the result was a smearing of the picture that could range from a slight loss of resolution to quite a mess. 

Dr. Robert Lucky of Bell labs had done fundamental work on dealing with multipath in telephone systems.  The technology was called “transversal filters.”  Zenith R and D sought to apply those lessons to television receivers.  The adjustment of these filters was computationally intensive and could only be practical with microcomputer chips.  (That was our justification for getting a few of the ZDS computers for the lab, a desire  mentioned previously!)   The paper summarized our findings:  “A Tutorial on Ghost Cancelling in Television Systems” by Ciciora, Thomas and Sgrignoli; it was published in the IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics, Volume 25-1, pages 9 – 44, February 1979.  We were off to the digital and computer age! 

Cable television did not have the multipath problem and was taking over the role of the antenna with ever increasing market share.  Ghost cancelling (multipath correction) technology was too expensive to implement for just the receivers not connected to cable.  Those connected to cable didn’t need these circuits.  The project was de-emphasized in favor of other priorities.  Much later in the digital television age, multipath correction would become critical to broadcast digital television’s success.

The first Zenith contact with cable television that I’m aware of was a result of problems with an advanced synchronization system in Zenith television receivers. 

A little background may be useful.  Television displays were originally picture tubes with an electron beam scanning from left to right, and with a slight downward slope.  When the beam got to the right side of the screen, it was turned off (blanked), and quickly returned to the left side of the screen to begin the next line of the picture.  When the beam got to the bottom of the screen, it was again turned off (blanked) and quickly retraced back up to the top to begin the next picture.  The beam had to be blanked to prevent extraneous lines from appearing on the screen.  The television signal standard consists of painting thirty pictures a second, but doing every other line each sixtieth of a second.  This practice is based on the eye’s response to repetitive stimulus.  Thirty whole pictures a second would appear to flicker badly under normal lighting conditions.  This practice of presenting the picture in two halves, every other line, is called "interlacing," and solves the flicker problem.  The image tube in the early television cameras does the same thing and the receiver scanning and the camera tube scanning must be synchronized, or the picture will roll vertically, or tear diagonally.  There are synchronizing pulses built into the television signal for this purpose.  

Early television receivers had two types of synchronization.  Free-running vertical and horizontal deflection waveform oscillators had to be manually adjusted so that the picture was stable.  As the receiver warmed up (it ran on vacuum tubes), the oscillators’ frequency would drift and they would have to be continuously adjusted.  More advanced circuits locked to the synchronization pulses if the oscillators were adjusted to be reasonably close to the correct frequency.  Both types of circuits required knobs on the front of the receiver for “V” and “H” adjustment.  That was an undesirable complication for the viewer.  

The television signal standard specifies a precise numerical ratio between the horizontal and vertical scanning rates.  In professional broadcast equipment, digital “count down” circuits enforced that ratio, counting the horizontal pulses and generating a vertical pulse at the correct time.  This was the earliest known application of digital technology to the television system.  The Zenith R and D department sought to eliminate those annoying V and  H adjustments by applying this technique to the receiver.  The Vertical Countdown technique was demonstrated. 

Another problem arises with the interlacing of two half-pictures to make a complete picture.  Often the two half-pictures are not precisely spaced and this tends to blur the vertical resolution.  In the worst case, the two half- pictures completely overlap, and vertical resolution is cut in half.  This defect was called “pairing” because the two half-pictures paired up and became one.  It was expected that the countdown technology would ameliorate this problem as well. 

The countdown circuit worked perfectly on standard broadcast and cable channels but had fits with non-standard signals.  The cable companies used cheap television cameras aimed at weather reporting dials to fill a “local” channel.  Since the cheap camera didn’t have a countdown circuit, its V and H signals were free-running.  It fell to Richard Merrell of Zenith to develop a circuit that could tell the difference between a standard and non-standard signal, and appropriately switch modes in the integrated circuit.  The television sets were taken in a Zenith field truck to Janesville, Wisconsin, for testing.  The cable synchronization problem was called “the Janesville Jitter.”  Richard Merrell fixed it!
                                              (End of First Installment)

(Sorry that  some photos couldn't be shown,  but nothing was available but schematics, and who reads those except electrical engineers?)

The second installment will cover Zenith's inventions in the field of Teletext and its commercial development by Zenith. Here is a Zenith Teletext Box--

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                                        Why not?
Why not what?  

Why not have another reunion? Who that  attended can forget the last one?  Over 400 were there.  

Just one of so many happy groups. (Photo by Wayne Bretl)

We could do it!--have another reunion--the llth! All we need is three or four volunteers. Richard and Barbara Alfano, who put on all  10 of the past reunions, have offered to help any volunteers with  advice and guidance.  
    Here is a photo of  Richard and Barbara at  a past reunion in the company of  an old Zenith employee who was made very happy in the final year of his life by attending a meeting!--


Here is what was written on the back of the photo: "The oldest man at the reunion at 95 years young" 'Anthony Schill, ACI.' He died in six months later.  He did not think anyone would have known him, but when he walked in someone did right away." 
   (Well--he was a member of the Zenith family! How could he ever be forgotten!)

SO!  Let's Do It!  If you wish to volunteer to help set up a reunion, just send me your name at ducord@gmail.com, and a meeting will be set up. 

With that prospect of an 11th Zenith Reunion  firmly in mind, it is time to say--


--Ralph Clarke  

See you next on June 15th!  (... I hope, being 95 ears young myself).