June 3, 2002
Ed, before I review the book, The Boy Genius and The Mogul, and add some anecdotal information, I want to tell you how I became a part of the RCA story.
Neither side of our families had any college graduates before Polly and I were married. The GI Bill from World War II was available to me. We were working for a radio station in El Paso as engineer and disk jockeys. The station was nice enough to arrange our working hours so that we could attend classes at University of Texas at El Paso (then known as Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy, later Texas Western College). The day I took my last senior final exam was also the day I had the physical exam for return to military service in the Korean War. The Army did need radio officers. My service this time was at the Pentagon, the Army Signal Corps, later known as the Army Electronics command under General George Back. My organization was The Plant Engineering Agency.
That group provided design and installation of the Armyís strategic communications. I worked on some interesting projects. For example, President Truman almost refused to fly. We built him a presidential railroad car with a complete secure communications capability. The most interesting challenge was to transmit and receive high frequency stuff. Thatís not normally a very big challenge until you think about the clearance a railroad car has in tunnels. And the car is metal! We did have some trouble getting the transmitter to load the antenna. That car stripped of all things mentioned above is now at McCormick Railroad Park in Scottsdale.
Other fun installations included two major point to point multiple transmitter stations at Sabana Seca in Puerto Rico and south of Washington, D.C. at a place named Woodbridge, Va. Both of those installations were later replaced when the Army changed over to satellite communications. Trips accompanying ATT consultants to the Far East were also interesting. At Okinawa I saw for the first time a communications listening post operated by the National Security Agency.
While that tour of duty was worthwhile, it was delaying my post-college entry into more responsible electronic work. I had a standing job offer in El Paso to help start up a television station. One of the guys who was also recalled to active duty was Ed Stern. He and his family owned a radio/ TV station in New Orleans. He suggested that I should look in to RCA. They had built his facilities. I did interview in New York City, Harrison and Camden, New Jersey. RCA looked right for me, and so after a short period, I was a Washington, D.C. representative for the Defense Electronics Products Division. In the book you will see the name of Ted Smith. He was very useful to Sarnoff as a lawyer and so was promoted to the executive ranks. Ted Smith headed DEP, and was a very good guy.
Promotions led to better positions in Camden, NJ in the old Victor Phonograph factory. At that time some older folks used to talk about how they would celebrate when Caruso came to town to make records.
By about the mid-Ď50s RCA had decided this semiconductor stuff wouldnít go away and started a research effort at the RCA tube plant in Harrison, NJ under Dr. Alan Glover. Among the efforts were those to make germanium point contact, alloy and mesa transistors. When the efforts seemed to be ready for commercial production, a pilot line was started in Somerville, N. J. The original products and yields left much to be desired. Little was known about cleanliness requirements, and the fragility of the germanium surface. Germanium, unlike silicon, does not develop a stable, robust oxide.
My move to Somerville was for the purpose of attracting government funding for development of new products and processes. I bumped up against a ceiling with my then boss. Having an offer of a VP job with a Santa Monica ceramic hybrid manufacturer, my tour with RCA was over in 1952.
THE BOY GENIUS AND THE MOGUL
By Daniel Stashower
My interest in electronics has existed from the time I first built a crystal receiver using, yes, a Mothers Oats box as a coil form. By selling Liberty Magazines in downtown Dallas, Texas, I was able to buy a variocoupler to improve reception. Later, in high school, in about 1934, with lots of help from my high school chemistry teacher, a short wave receiver which we built became a proud possession. It had one tube, a 22A. That was probably the first vacuum tube with a screen grid. One of the most intriguing receptions I found was a periodic broadcast from a shortwave service of WGN in Chicago. They were broadcasting black and white sequential television signals using the Nipkow disk type of spinning wheel. They would announce ďnow this is Felix the CatĒ then I could hear a series of buzzes. The thought of pictures by radio was really intriguing. That early experience probably set some patterns in my life and did make the reading of this book exciting to me.
The author has done a very good job interrelating all of the diverse efforts to bring about electronic transmission and reception of pictures. Many scientists, organizations and laboratories were at work on this challenge. Stashower seems to have uncovered whatever history remains of their efforts. And to his credit, he brings in the life stories of those participating in the race. Just a recitation of the accomplishments and failures would be not so nearly intriguing.
This book is recommended reading for any who want to know that inventors are not just icons, but are also humans and their emotions intertwine with logic.
Ed, this section of my thoughts will show where I have any recollection of material beyond that in the book. Recall my view is from my perspective being an RCA employee. The index and bibliography are the places to start:
Eddy, Bill, 209, 224, 230. Iím not certain, but I believe this is the same Bill Eddy who wrote the Navy training manuals for electronics. By the time I knew about him, he was deaf and used a smoking pipe shaped hearing aid which he had built for bone conduction. You knew when a meeting with him was over. He simply took the pipe out and laid it on the table.
Goldsmith, Alfred, When I knew Dr. Goldsmith, he had become an elder statesman for RCA. You will recall from previous information I have sent you that he was very instrumental in the development of compatible color television. He was the inventor of the shadow mask type of color tube which is dominant in industry now,
Inglis, Andrew, Behind the Tube: A History of Broadcasting Technology and Business. Andy was very influential in the television broadcasting equipment sales and planning at RCA in Camden.
Lewis, Tom, Empire of the Air. The first head of Armed Forces Radio Service was a Colonel Thomas H. A. Lewis. He was Loretta Youngís husband. Before the war he had been a radio broadcasting advertising executive. This may be the same Tom Lewis.
Smith, Ted, 193. In an above paragraph Iíve mentioned my acquaintance with Ted. I didnít know of his legal background. He did really well at heading the Defense Electronic Products Department of RCA while I was there.
Itís somewhat disappointing that Stashower didnít continue his tale to bring us to date by including the development of color television. It is an equally intriguing story which in many ways duplicates the skirmishes of the black and white wars. As you may recall, Sarnoff in his usual way, told Dr. Goldsmith by telephone, ďAl I want you to invent color television.Ē As Goldsmith told it to me he slept on it and in the morning came up with 17 ways it could be done. With more reflection, he narrowed the choices to four. Patent applications were filed on them. The one chosen to be developed was the three-gun shadow mask version.
RCA hurried the work, but the FCC was being urged to decide on a system. Sarnoff again called on the National Television Standards Committee for correlation with the industry. One of their major contributions was the development of the color information and the placement of it during the blanking between fields of the picture.
The FCC decided on a date for decision and when the hearings were over, the CBS spinning wheel color system had won. RCA couldnít yet show a color tube. They did show a receiver with three separate picture tubes, one for each color. Not good.
Soon the shadow mask type of tube became a reality in a 15 inch version. The NTSC and RCA asked the FCC for a review. At the end of that set of hearings RCA had clearly won. For their first commercial set they chose the old reliable, well engineered, 630 TS chassis. We owned one of the early production ones even when we moved here 37 years ago. There is of course much more detail to the story. Maybe thatís another book for someone, perhaps for Stashower.
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