Thursday, July 30, 2015

Post 30

In Post 23, it was reported that Bob Adler and his wife Mary delighted in a yearly visit to the Paradise Inn located on the high slopes of Mt. Ranier, in Washington State, near Seattle. In the Post, it was also told that Mt. Ranier is the third most dangerous volcano in the world, and if it ever "lets go,"  nearby Tacoma and Seattle would be in a very bad way. 

With that comforting thought in mind, let us get to the subject.  Bob and Mary would go hiking in the many paths around the Paradise Inn, and in his  80's, Bob would actually go down-hill skiing. While they were out of town and on vacation, John Nevin laid off Bob Adler's entire research department. If that didn't sink in, let it be repeated--  

             John Nevin laid off Bob Adler's entire research department!

--in toto, all of them, just like that!  They were all located on the sixth floor of the Glenview plant, so they were an easy target.  

Perhaps it was necessary surgery, as Zenith had been hemorrhaging money, and no doubt Nevin had the approval of the Zenith board. But then, John Nevin never did like the research activity: said you could "buy" any needed research outside. In Nevin’s view, the Research Department wasn’t paying off, and expenses were mounting in the battle of the Japanese Dumping. So something had to go, and it  was the Research Department.

But what a way to end a vacation for Bob! The Zenith Research Department was literally Bob's life's work. It seems it could have  been done in a more gentle way, face to face, with reasons for the need.

(Actually, the Research department was the first to go.  It was followed in succession by a number of whole departments and activities of Zenith in what might be  called the phase of "throwing out the baby with the bath water."  During this phase, the financial measuring stick was $21 million a year--if it didn't do that amount of business, it was considered as not being worth the effort,  and had to go--no matter how promising it might be.  The story that follows will disclose one of those promising projects that were thrown out. Future Posts of this weblog will recount other promising projects that were either thrown out or given away  and which  otherwise had great promise.     

And the question may occur:  Could Zenith have survived if its president had had a technical background--one who could have better evaluated the projects for their future worth--executives of the caliber of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates?   

Could Bob Adler have been that man?  He certainly had the ability to evaluate a project, and judge its worth now and in the future.  However (and this is a valid consideration!)  Bob Adler was not a "suit", that is, he did not fit the image of the successful executive.  Rather than take his vacation as a golf vacation with the other executives, or be present  at the 19th hole after a round of golf,   he preferred to wear mufti, and hob-nob with his fellow technologists. He wasn't  "there" when the big decisions were made. 

But it was done, and when Bob came back from vacation, he found that his engineers and scientists were no longer  working on their projects, but packing up their personal effects, and sending out their resumes. And that included the secretaries and other helpers.   And it left Bob's Executive Assistant, Erv Roschke, with nothing to "execute," and jobless, of course.  " He was wandering about muttering about "the holocaust." And indeed, it could be considered one. 

And all those projects that the Research Department was working on, all selected and supervised by Bob Adler.  A primary project  distinct in memory is the   panel display under Dr. Alan Sobel. In a few years it may have become a winner for Zenith as a predecessor to the panels now produced by LG Electronics and Samsung.  

Bob Resigned, of course, but was immediately picked up by the Rauland picture tube group in Melrose Park.  The others--the engineers and scientists-- all of whom had been  selected  by Bob for employment, were let go.   They were the best, and found jobs very quickly. One I recall, was an world-recognized expert in phosphors (an ideal employee for Zenith and its need of phosphors!). He   was offered a position at the research center of Standard Oil Company (which I could never understand--what was an oil company doing with phosphors?)

Phyllis Libman had an experimental picture tube manufacturing facility at Glenview, and she  was transferred to Rauland. (Note: Glenview never knew about the existence that little "manufacturing facility"-- forbidden by the statutes of Glenview.)

And all those project the Research Department was working on--projects selected by Bob Adler that when they had come to fruition, would have guaranteed Zenith's future far into the 21st Century.  

But it was done.  Bob was assigned a small office at the Rauland Plant. He was suffering a "double whammy" in that his beloved wife, Mary, was ill.  In fact, that vacation at Paradise Inn was  to be their last. The miles of hiking trails Mary  had  walked with Bob had become  impossible for her.  I recall Bob often talking for hours on the telephone with doctors, trying to find help for Mary. But it was not to be.  She died shortly after.  Goodbye, Mary.  

But Bob carried on. He continued to work on his inventions and, as John Pedersen wrote in his tribute to Bob, "Thirty-nine of his U.S. patents were granted on inventions he made during this twilight phase of his illustrious career.  In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published his latest patent application for advances in touch-screen technology, in early February 2007,  just days before his passing."

Requiescat in pace, Bob.

                                                            * * * * * * * * 
About that baby and the bathwater . . . here is one of the first to go--
the Zenith Paging System.  Here is the story of the paging system. 

This photo appeared in Post 17 with this question:   Who is this engineer, and what is he holding?  He is Zenith electrical engineer Alfred Ditthardt  (better known as "Al" Ditthardt!)  and he is holding the Zenith Pager. 


With  his fellow engineers including  Bill Van Slyck, Vito Brugliera, Joe Aiello, Frank Henmueller, Freddy Lieder, Bill Van Slyck and Len Schrader, the group 
developed the  pager and paging system that the Motorola engineering staff said "was impossible."  Just like Zenith engineers to do that!  Here is the story as Al Ditthardt tells it—

(But First: Google has bought Motorola, which I didn’t know! The rascals! Here is Motorola’s new logo-                                                                             

(Note:  We could have bought Google at $65 a share when it was first offered.  Now it is $650 a share.  Let’s take turns kicking each other for not buying some of that stock. )

Now, on with Al’s story,  told in his own words:

"In the 1960’s, the  engineers of Zenith’s Government and Special Products Division under Bill Van Slyck became interested in expanding into Industrial Electronics. It was considered to be a more stable market than military contracts which may, or may not be, awarded. Many of us had worked at the nearby Motorola Two-Way Communications Division, which had very successfully grown into the Motorola Industrial Electronics Market.  A number of us had worked there designing and manufacturing  two-way radios for police, fire and taxi applications. We understood the narrow-band analog technologies being used in Motorola  products, and their limitations So we were looking for opportunities to enter Motorola-dominated markets.
                                                             A Motorola two-way radio

"One such opportunity arose when John Kramer, our lead salesman, visited Montreal Canada in 1967. While there, he made a sales call on Bell Canada, the major  phone company in that country, who had their main office in Montreal.  He learned that they were planning to request a quote from vendors for what they called “System Wide Area Paging,” or SWAP,  an advanced new system. covering all of Canada. The intent of the SWAP system was to be able to radio-page anyone anywhere in Canada--something not achievable with the current technology mostly supplied by Motorola. Bell Canada was  told by Motorola that what they wanted in digital paging could not be done. Could  Zenith make the new  kind of receiver required. and would they respond to their planned RFQ--request for quote?  John said “yes” to the interest, and that he would check with Zenith management.

The  Canada Bell Pager,  the "bellbo.y"  Bellboy was Canada Bell's name for their pagers.  

"John was in an excellent position  to speak to the usefulness of pagers. It’s hard to imagine in this age of cell phones, but keeping in touch with one’s office was difficult in the sixties and seventies. John carried a  pocket pager as he traveled from agency to agency in Washington, D.C.  Regardless of where he was, when his pager beeped, he knew that there was a message at his office,  and he used the nearest  land-line phone to reach his office, thus  taking fast action with customers. Those of us in Chicago knew we could usually get in touch with John in minutes.

"Radio telephones--as cell phones  were called at the time--were suitcase- sized pieces of equipment, and awkward to carry around.  However, in most US and Canadian cities, there were paging systems, all analog, that would alert your intended  party when you dialed the correct phone number. The phone system connected to a series of radio transmitters  would send an alerting  signal to a body-worn paging receiver which would “beep.” In fact these were commonly referred to as “beepers” Realizing you were wanted by someone at your office,  you could then call a prearranged number and get your message  to the recipient. John had used a beeper during his many sales calls in Washington, and found it a great convenience. It allowed him be away from his phone, yet respond quickly to customers--a great boon.

"Some technical details now (sorry!). Radio paging systems at that time were narrow-band FM systems that used a series of analog tones to select one of perhaps 3000 users on the same channel.  It was reasonably fast, but coverage was usually limited to a 30- to 50-mile circle around the transmitter. Multiple transmitters were used to increase coverage in larger cities. However, as distances started to approach hundreds of miles, the telephone lines connecting these multiple transmitters would introduce phase shifts to the analog tones.  An unwanted result was that signaling tones from distant transmitters would be out of phase, and cancel each other and the intended beep.

'Zenith management replied that they were interested, and negotiated a six- month period to arrive at a demonstration system.  John and I traveled to Montreal to get their requirements first hand.  Bell Canada outlined the specifications likely to be in the future RFQ: a 150-Mhz system capable of having 10,000 customers on one channel was  desired.  The receiver should be small--about the size of two cigars, and fit in a tamper-proof case to prevent damage to the electronics. A battery should last at least a month.  Radio sensitivities should be comparable to the present Motorola analog receivers. The alerting signal should be loud enough to be heard  even  in very noisy environments.  Above all, it should not use tones.

At that time, U.S. and Canadian phone companies had networks of teletype machines that operated successfully. Whole rooms full of these noisy typewriter -like machines would connect newspaper, radio and TV stations.  
A teletype machine

"These operated at 110 bits per second over phone  lines--one of the earliest forms of electronic  digital communications. Could any of that technology be used for paging? It seemed to Bell Canada engineers that it could.  Bell Canada challenged Zenith to build a small demonstration system  to prove the concept in Montreal.   

"Due to the short  turnaround time, we started immediately. The plan was to build a small portable battery-operated  transmitter, crystal-controlled, that could be frequency-shifted within an assigned 150 MHz FM channel.  Included in the small portable transmitter was an encoding system to select pagers. We purchased two Motorola pagers and used their front ends as receivers in our prototype digital receivers. Then we added a 16-bit binary digital encoder and a loud alerting beeping signal. This involved a lot of Saturday work over the 6-month period.  Finally, we had a small portable transmitter that could be programmed with switches, and would select the address of one of two prototype receivers. By changing the address on the encoder, we could demonstrate that only the correct receiver would be alerted and other codes rejected We mounted the re-purposed receivers in neat small black wooden boxes to hide the circuits from prying eyes. 

The Zenith "re-purposed" receiver

After a demo to Vice-President Gene Kinney and others, Zenith management, including Dr. Bob Adler, were quite pleased. They  sent  John Kramer and me back to Bell Canada for a demonstration that would prove the concept, and obtain a contract for a small number of pagers—a  prototype run. And we came up with a demonstration model that fit the specs. 

Top of the Zenith pager, showing (at the left) the on-off switch, the "on" indicator , and the red reset button. 
"Needless to say, the Canadians were impressed. It was decided that there would be an outdoor test of the prototypes in North Bay Ontario that November. In that way, the new type of frequency shifting transmission would not interfere with big city signals. The test went well--the receivers performed flawlessly and there was no interference. I remember the only time Bell Canada could conduct the test at North Bay was on American Thanksgiving Day.  There was 10 inches of snow on the ground. As I came back to the telephone office I complained about being out in the snow all day. The office manager said “You’re lucky, you could have been here in winter!”

The upshot was that we were given nine  months to come up with 25 receivers to size and spec.  We designed circuit cards and a small preliminary receiver. An electrical design issue was that digital CMOS circuits operated at voltages above 5 volts. The only commercially feasible battery was a nine-volt transistor battery. Our designer, Joe Aiello  came up with the brilliant solution of putting the receiver in series with the decoding logic so that it would have 4.5 volts, enough for CMOS. Now we had a workable battery. Incidentally, the battery used in the Motorola analog pager was a one-cell AA type not capable of operating digital circuits. I’m sure this was another factor in their thinking that a digital pager was not a possibility.

Another design challenge was the code plug. Early in the game, it was realized that a big advantage to going digital would be that every  receiver would be alike except for the digital code plug. This plug would give the pager its address. It was an intriguing design challenge.  We took a small circuit card with 16 fusible links on it, and soldered it to a military grade connector. The links were selectively opened by discharging a capacitor through them, thus creating the address for that particular pager. The military connector was important for a reliable address. The code plug was the only difference between receivers, allowing ease of production and re-coding. 

The "code plug." The small size is indicated by the ten-cent piece. It is the only part that differs unit to unit.  

"A mechanical  design challenge was to make the internal electronics inaccessible to the user and the uninitiated. We were able to design the battery terminals so that a special tool could reach through what looked like a typical battery terminal to release two screws holding the case to the electronics. We 
had a special confirmation that this was effective when we received a call from unidentified competitor (Motorola!)  saying “Please tell us how to open this (stolen) pager, we don’t want to damage it”! The pager was stolen when one of our people left the pagers unattended at a radio communications show.

"The first 25 pagers were designed and completed on time. In tests, receiver sensitivity  was off by 20 micro-volts and current drain was on the high side. After some considerable testing, it was thought good to go to a larger case allowing for a larger antenna, among other things. This redesign met specs and Zenith was awarded a contract for US$ 1.5 million by Bell Canada.  Motorola no-bid the RFQ saying the requirements were impossible to meet. In fact we heard that one VP at Motorola nearly lost his job when it was discovered that we had made digital paging work, when he had said it wouldn’t! 

"Other phone companies were also interested. The Bell Telephone system was very large, and the various offices talk to each other over long distances as Canada is very “long” geographically.   California Bell was also interested. It too is a “long” state that posed difficulties for analog systems. In fact, California Bell was about to sign a contract with Zenith when the Government and Special Products Division  was eliminated. (Note:  One of the  first of  the "babies" to go.)The digital pager product was eventually sold to Stewart-Warner which, together with the help of a few engineers from Zenith Military, made thousands of them. I understand that they bought it from Zenith for  a very nominal sum.

"In conclusion, the concept was a good one for its time, and curiously enough, paging systems  are still an effective way to quickly reach people over large and unpopulated distances, especially in areas where cell phone  service is spotty. They are especially effective where cell phone messages are overwhelmed by a great number of calls. In short, they "get through" where cell phones won't. I’m not sure how long Bell Canada used  digital pagers and they were probably phased out a long time ago.

"For many of us, it was a lost opportunity for Zenith. Had we continued to invest time and money with digital radio systems for the Bell System, we could have had a prosperous stand-alone business at Zenith, and we were that far ahead of competition. We might have even eventually  arrived at a cell phone just as the market for them  blossomed into the unbelievable numbers that now exist in every country in the world! (Like 5 billion of them are now in use!)"
                             (End of Al’s dissertation on the cell phone.)

An after-thought: As noted, this was an early example of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  John Kramer even called Nevin from Washington to remonstrate with him, for after all, a contract was in hand, with many to follow. But Nevin was adamant even though it was apparent that the paging system contracts would eventually yield much more than $21 million a year. Out they went. 
Perhaps there was a justification.  The government and Special Product Division had lost big money on some ill-advised government contracts, and Nevin didn’t want to take a chance again with the Division.

--but all that lost potential  cell-phone business!   And the Zenith pager might have transmuted into the cell phone, which is so alike in so many ways. The Zenith team that developed the pager surely could have built a cell phone equal or better than Motorola's.  And Zenith had two engineers who has worked on Motorola's early cell phone. There might have been a Zenith cell-phone  No. 1 in sales, like Zenith televisions, and so many of other Zenith products.

Those sad words come  to mind again--          
                                  . . .  it might have been.

                                                       * * * * * * * * *

More about Motorola and their cell phone.  Motorola went on to manufacture their own version of the paging system, but the product line went into obscurity when Motorola developed the Motorola cell phone to great success. 

Motorola executive holding the first private hand-held cell phone dubbed the "brick phone." 
   Then Motorola went  on to develop the "Razr."  It  because No. 1 in sales.

The Motorola Razr cell phone 
                             But then-- along came the iPhone . . . .  

Motorola did all right in  the end.  They sold their cell-phone business for $3 billion.
                                                     * * * * * * * * 

Zenith and the light amplifier

The Government and Special Products Division had received a contract from the government to develop a light-amplifying and viewing system. When the project  was completed and the final engineering report was published, Zenith either lost interest in the project (or it was “thrown out” in the “great divestment.”)  A small group of Zenith employees who had developed the amplifier under government contract pooled their Zenith profit-sharing money and formed a company to promote the light amplifier, then they sold the company.  They got their profit-sharing money  back; in fact, they all retired as millionaires.  Ferd Fender, where are you now?  (Ferd was one of the participants, and the only name The Author recalls.)

The government contract  was for the development of a system for the amplifying light. The core of the system is the micro-channel plate. For information about amplifying light images, we turn again to the invaluable Wikipedia-- 

A micro-channel plate (MCP) is a planar component used for detection and amplification of particles such as electrons. It is shown as a red plate in the diagram below, and its function in conjunction with light amplification components is indicated. Essentially, it consists of a great many tiny tubes which act as electron amplifiers as the electrons bounce off the walls in their passage through the component. 

Note:  The "great many" tiny tubes described in the above account is more like six million tiny tubes. 

The system may include an “auto-gating function in which the voltage is switched on and off rapidly to provide the best resolution and contrast of the image.  
Here is an example of a night vision image--

A night vision image (courtesy of General Photonics Corp.

 An early example  of night vision  viewer is the low-light-level image orthicon tube developed by the late Admiral Corporation’s government products division. Before I came to Zenith in 1959,  I was a member  of a team that took it to Midway  Airport to try it out.  Problem was, the image “bloomed” when the viewer came upon a bright light such as an airport landing light, so it was proved largely worthless as a practical night vision device.

Now, here is the  Zenith  version of a low-light amplifier-- 
This is  is the Zenith Uniscope NVS-404A Light Amplifier.  Yes, it amplifies light to provide a clear image of the target.  It won’t work in Mammoth Cave or in a coal mine where there is absolutely no light,  but it will provide a clear image of a target wherever there the slightest presence of light,  such as on a 
moon-less night. It was a product of Zenith's Government and Special Products Division, which also went out with the bath water.  


A similar scope called “The Starlight” was used to good effect during the Viet Nam war against truck traffic traveling at night  along the Ho Chi Min trail that ran from China to supply the Viet Nam army.  The sides of a slow-flying plane such as an old DC-3 were opened and the plane was fitted out  with 50-caliber machine guns and Gatling-like cannons, all aimed at a predetermined target.  The targets were clearly visible with the  light amplifier.  The plane would circle the target area where the supply trucks were passing. The drivers were chained in their trucks to prevent them from taking early departure when under fire.  The trucks were like rows of sitting ducks, and of course destroyed in bursts of fire.  (Note: However, the destroyed trucks were merely pushed out of the way, and an unending train of trucks on the Ho Chin Min trail  continued like a trail of ants. But it did halt traffic temporarily.
The point is: low-light viewers were in great demand by the armed forces and security agencies of the government. The development and sale of such devices became a billion-dollar business.  And Zenith threw it away. 

                                                         * * * * * * *                                         

The last Post, Post 29, featured a tribute to Bob Adler and his achievements.  It was written by John Pedersen, the long-time director  of the Patent Department, and the writer of the applications for many of Adler's landmark  patents.  Here is John's photo--

John Pedersen
                                                                    * * * * * * * * 

And in Post 29, a photo of Don Gayle and his wife "Sharon" was shown.   

Actually, Don's wife is named Joyce, not Sharon. (or, perhaps you have two wives, Don, which you haven't told us about.) 

                                                            * * * * * * * * 

The Raulanders met in May at Russell's in Elmwood Park for their monthly meeting, and the photo below was taken by Chuck Prazak. Chuck reports that  Stan Zajak expects to be in town for the December meeting. 

Standing is Tom Holmes. From the left is Chuck Prazak and his wife Bess, and Lowell Cordingly.
                                                                * * * * * * * *

In Post 28, the question was asked:

                                                                 Why not?
Why not what?  

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

Only one reader responded to that question, and her name is Anna.  She was a very long-time employee. Here is what she wrote:

"Count me in the reunion.  I worked for Zenith for almost 42 years at plants 1 and 6.  Keep us informed.  When I started in 1958 it was a great company and I was proud to being involved with the American made products we used to make."

Thank you, Anna.  You are  the only one   who responded to that question: “Why not have another reunion?” And that also answers the question. If only one reader bothered to respond, obviously there is little  interest, and there will never be another reunion.  And Frank and Barbara Alfano, sponsors of those ten earlier reunions, be put on notice:   “You can throw away those 900 cards that recorded the membership.”  All things, included the best of the best, must come to an end, so let the Zenith reunions be at an end, along with Zenith. 

                                                              * * ** * * * *
And now,  Mizpah until the next Post, Post 31, which will  appear August 30 God willing,  where there will be more revelations of Zenith's struggle to stay alive.