Interview Location: University Park, PA
Interviewer: Archer Taylor
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: We are interviewing Jim Palmer in his lovely home in State College, Pennsylvania, and we are going to explore the history of C-COR Electronics and proceed from there. Let’s start with your family background–where you were born, your education, how did you get into engineering, and so on.
PALMER: My family is from Nebraska. Both pairs of grandparents homesteaded in Nebraska, so I’m a Nebraskan from way back. My mother and father were both born in Nebraska … father on the homestead property. My mother was born in a sod house, in north central Nebraska. She is still living … ninety-nine years old and living in her home in Kearney, Nebraska, where I have provided round-the-clock care for her. Her mind is in pretty good shape part of the time. I was a product of the Depression. Remember the dust storms and the problems of those days? I’m somewhat frugal in many of my activities, and I think that really helped in building a company.
I went to schools in Elmcreek and North Platte and graduated from high school in Kearney in 1941. I graduated a year ahead of Peter G. Peterson, also from that high school. I had a Regent Scholarship to the University of Nebraska. Otherwise, I could not have afforded the $50 tuition. I also worked to pay my living and other expenses. My last job was with American District Telegraph, where I was night operator and guard from midnight until 8 a.m. I worked forty-eight hours one week and fifty-two hours the next week. That year I got higher grades than I did my freshman year when I received an award for highest freshman scholarship in the College of Engineering.
In June 1943 there was a great exodus for the service. I enlisted in both the Army and the Navy. The Navy called me up first and sent me to Iowa State. I was allotted four semesters in the Navy V-12 program. So by taking 21 credit hours per semester, I would be able to get my BSEE at Iowa State. The first semester there I was battalion commander since I had two years of ROTC at Nebraska. The last semester I was regimental commander. I graduated from Iowa State with a grade point of 3.95. I got a “B” in electronics from John D. Ryder, of quite some fame, in electrical engineering … IRE and IEEE.
In October of 1944, I was sent to Columbia (New York City) Midshipman School, where I graduated as an ensign. I went from there to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, for three months of officer electronics training. I then went to MIT Radar School for four months. By that time all the shooting was over. VJ and VE days had passed and I was assigned as the electronics officer aboard a destroyer in the East China Sea. I had a nice shopping trip to China, Shanghai, Qingdao, Okinawa, Taku Bar that served Beijing.
Out of the Navy, I went to work for General Electric … had offers for both GE and Westinghouse. I couldn’t really differentiate between the two, but GE offered me $5 more a month which was not the criteria, but the only perceived difference. So I went to work in Schenectady in test and in the advanced engineering program which was quite a coup. They really taught you to think and to think in terms of problem solving.
I worked for General Electric for five years ending up in switchgear in Philadelphia. I was involved as project manager to develop a mechanical rectifier–a rectifier with contacts that opened and closed 60 times a second to convert AC to DC, which was successful. About that time solid state rectifiers came along, which were about as efficient as a mechanical rectifier with a lot less complexity.
TAYLOR: Could you put an approximate date on that?
PALMER: That would be 1948.
TAYLOR: When were you and Barbara married?
PALMER: We married in 1948.
TAYLOR: This was in Philadelphia?
PALMER: In Philadelphia. Salaries at General Electric had fallen way behind what they should have been, and I went to work for United Engineers and Constructors. Worked as an electrical engineer on the design of a polyvinyl monomer plant for Monsanto and on Gary Steel Works coal chemical facility for U.S. Steel. I didn’t like the commuting to the center of Philadelphia so I looked for another job … one with new interests and new directions.
I was attached to a position at Haller, Raymond and Brown, an electronics military R&D company, in State College, Pennsylvania … a beautiful community. It certainly got away from the traffic and the congestion in Philadelphia. That move was 1953 and we’ve been in State College ever since.
At Haller, Raymond and Brown–now HRB Systems–I was a project engineer on a transmission system to transmit radar displays to remote locations over telephone lines using mechanical devices to make the translation. I also did a study for the Signal Corps of communication and navigation systems for Army aircraft. The Army had more aircraft than the Air Force did … the Grasshopper, the Beaver and helicopters. That gave me an interest in flight that I didn’t have before, although my father was a pilot in the First World War This was a propeller that he broke in 1919 [pointing to a broken propeller hanging on the wall].
TAYLOR: I was wondering about that … interesting.
PALMER: Taxiing in a field of leaves, probably at Moffett Field, there was a ditch he didn’t see and the plane nosed over. Busted the prop and he kept it.
TAYLOR: That was a long time ago, I take it.
PALMER: Yes, 1919.
TAYLOR: For goodness sake. Was he injured?
PALMER: No. Probably the only problem was the broken prop. They would have checked out the crank shaft to make sure that it was true.
After a year or so at HRB, the technical director and Walt Brown called me in and asked if I wouldn’t look after a little organization that they had started on the side. I would be general manager and they would pay me in stock. This outfit was Community Engineering Corporation, which had one full-time employee, two part-time employees, and a negative equity of $10,000. Obviously, if I could have read a balance sheet, I wouldn’t have taken the job, but I couldn’t, so …
TAYLOR: Can you put a date on that?
PALMER: That’s 1954. I started with HRB in October ’53 and this exchange took place in December of 1954, which I marked as my entrance into the cable television industry. I became general manager of that operation. Sometime in early ’56 we decided that I was spending forty hours a week on this part-time job and forty hours on my other job … I should go full time. We went up and down the streets of State College selling stock to our friends and neighbors and I went full time. I became president and was stuck with it for the next thirty-one years.
TAYLOR: This was Community Equipment Company at that time, which was known as Engineering …
PALMER: Community Engineering Corporation.
TAYLOR: Also known as CECO.
PALMER: There was some problem using “engineering” in the name because none of those other guys were professional engineers, although they were all PhD’s. I was a registered engineer. In fact, I was registered in five states at that time, at United Engineers and Constructors. But we had trademark problems with “CECO” which we had shortened our name to for use on our literature and products. There were many companies with the name CECO. The one that came down on us was Century Lighting who had trademarked CECO for a system of lights for the broadcast industry. They thought there would be a chance for confusion and they were going at us with a vengeance … and they were serious!
So, we coined the name “C-COR” … just a pure coinage. It maintained the same place in the alphabet and got a listing generally in the first of the “C’s”. It was clear from a copyright standpoint. So we proceeded to change our name to C-COR Electronics, Inc. To trademark it, service mark it–those things to give us protection. We proceeded to make C-COR stand for quality … quality electronic equipment, quality amplifiers.
TAYLOR: I can certainly say that was successful, what I’ve seen in my experience. How did Centre Video get started? Was this about simultaneous with your getting into Community Engineering?
PALMER: The same gentlemen that started Community Engineering started a company called Central Pennsylvania Corporation to get a license for television broadcasting in 1947, ’48, ’49. They were unsuccessful in getting a TV license. I am inferring that since they had this corporation and some of the money raised, they said, “Oh, maybe we ought to get into cable television.” So they built a cable system in Bellefonte which had early Jerrold equipment. It was a one channel system and probably dates from 1949.
Another group of people, overlapping personalities, built a cable system in State College called State College Television Cable Company. Walt Brown was involved with that … with the antenna site on top of his house, which was on a higher portion of State College and, also, fairly central.
There was another company called Centre Video Corporation which was incorporated, again, by some of these same players. With its initial business as a distributer for Jerrold equipment–to sell, service, install Jerrold equipment–it got into arguments with Milt Shapp.
TAYLOR: Everybody did.
TAYLOR: What was CECO or Community Engineering Corporation? What was their business?
PALMER: Their business was amplifiers.
TAYLOR: What kind of amplifiers?
PALMER: The first amplifier was to take a Jerrold strip, use the sheet metal, the tube sockets and to install distributed lines … make those strips into distributed amplifiers. Plug into the same power supply but then cover bandwidth from 54 to 100+ megahertz.
TAYLOR: So, CECO, really from the beginning, was a CATV amplifier manufacturer?
PALMER: Our product was a CATV amplifier. It was broadband and it was a distributed amplifier using 6AK5 tubes.
TAYLOR: Right from the beginning, you started working for them as unpaid except by stock?
TAYLOR: Interesting. That distributed amplifier, this is a transmission line, in the grid, in the plate and that sort of thing. I’d wanted to talk to Fitz Kennedy because I thought he had told me he had a patent. It turns out there was a British guy, I don’t know his name, who had the patent on the distributed line and Kennedy got a license to produce it. He was with Spencer at the time building equipment amplifiers for laboratory purposes. They didn’t know about CATV. He did have a license for it, but then when the boys down at International Telemeter … George Brownstein and, I guess, Pat Court wasn’t in that, but Ron Mandell, I guess, was in it. There may be some others. They started building distributed amplifiers and ignored the patent situation. They just did it! As a matter of fact, we used the International Telemeter amplifier in Kalispell when we started because it worked better.
PALMER: What year was that?
TAYLOR: 1953. But Fitz was pretty bitter about the fact that these guys were doing … He had gone to the trouble of getting a license and paying a royalty and these guys just went ahead and did it anyway. Were you involved in any license situation or patent situation?
PALMER: No, we weren’t. We used … I am aware of information in Walt Brown’s files that showed German development of the distributed amplifier.
TAYLOR: It could well be. It was Socks Bridgett that told me how this came about. He’s like I am … his memory is just a little weak and not detailed. It may have been a German, rather than a British. He said British.
Ed. Note: W.S. Percival, British Patent 460, 562 (1935-37) Reference in Rudenberg and Kennedy paper in ELECTRONICS, December, 1949 (McGraw-Hill).
PALMER: Now, our amplifier was different from the others because we did only the low VHF band. It was a low pass amplifier, and initially, did not attempt to carry the FM band but cut off between 100 and 105 megahertz. SKL’s was an all band amplifier, as was International Telemeter. Entron at some point had a distributed amplifier, too.
TAYLOR: I’ve got Hank Diambra on my list to talk to yet.
PALMER: So first we did the strips to plug into the Jerrold power supply which may have been part of the WADO amplifier. But early on, in this same time frame, we did amplifiers in galvanized sheet steel boxes that were messenger mounted, cable powered, with the distributed amplifier circuit in it. And that was initially for antenna site runs.
TAYLOR: Now, this cable powering, that’s another thing I’ve been tracking a little bit. Diambra used to claim that he had the first cable powering situation. Have you heard him make that claim? That’s Entron.
PALMER: Not specifically, but you know, Hank talks a lot, so …
TAYLOR: He does, no question. You did the cable powering 1954, ’53?
PALMER: It would be ’53.
PALMER: The company did cable powering before I got involved because after a while I changed the transformer approach. Walt Brown used a transformer they could use as an auto transformer to get the different voltages. I did not like that approach, so I changed the circuit and used custom design transformers, with an isolated secondary. This confirms that cable powering was in use at CECO before I arrived in 1954.
TAYLOR: Well, you say, before you were involved with this, they did these things. Were they building amplifiers before you got involved?
TAYLOR: I see.
PALMER: That was with their one …
TAYLOR: Is this single channel?
PALMER: No, they would be broadband.
TAYLOR: That was distributed, was it?
PALMER: Yes. So I think that we can safely say that Community Engineering Corporation, and I think 1953 was the incorporation, always did wide band distributed cable powered amplifiers. Now the WADO retrofit was not cable powered because it used the Jerrold power supply.
TAYLOR: I see.
PALMER: But then, in addition to that, there were these big sheet metal boxes that had this little amplifier … but that was to hang on the messenger strand. And then, we just expanded on that idea. Instead of doing the Jerrold strips, I had an aluminum box that replicated the strips, which did the same thing. Those went into St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for one place.
One of our problems with the sheet metal and fabrication where you had to have some volume, you had to get out of the model shop bit. And I had a manufactured aluminum housing, over a pan, and the chassis was a “z” shaped piece of metal. So, the grid line could be one side of the “z” and the plate line on the other side, and that made the 100 A amplifier 22 dB gain, which was our standard for quite some time. But that started, and maybe somebody else did some cable powering, but nobody totally embraced it for about everything that they did. So, C-COR used cable powering almost exclusively. Used distributed amplifiers for everything except antenna site stuff and messenger mounting. So, those were solid contributions to the …
TAYLOR: I didn’t realize that you were doing distributed amplifiers from the beginning. I didn’t know that.
PALMER: I went full time as president of Community Engineering Corporation on August 1, 1956. On August 3rd, Community Engineering Corporation became the major owner of Centre Video Corporation which was the majority owner of State College Television Cable Company and the Central Pennsylvania Corporation. So three days after having assumed the presidency of the manufacturing company, CECO, I became very much involved in cable television operation. And for the first time, because I had no involvement with these other companies before that. State College Television Cable Company had 280 subscribers. The Bellefonte Central Pennsylvania Corporation had 500 very irate cable customers.
TAYLOR: Was it because of quality of service?
PALMER: Quality of service … about ready to be thrown out of town. I think maybe both systems had about 1.5 channels.
TAYLOR: Back on the record Jim, I just looked at a chart that shows that in 1954 the sales of CECO were $24,000, and in 1959 sales were up to $110,000.
Ed Note: The following dialogue refers to catalog data sheets given to the Center.
PALMER: Now here are pictures of amplifiers. This was the housing and the messenger mounted cable powering, although this is a single channel amplifier for antenna site use. This was a marker generator, splitters and I think this was a strip that would be powered from a Jerrold power supply.
TAYLOR: I presume that you built your own test equipment pretty much then? Your marker generator, was that one that CECO built?
PALMER: Yes. We also built a sweep generator, which was a revolving open air capacitor driven by a little induction motor, which would sweep the low band. Interesting, since an induction motor was not synchronous, so you could detect hum on the system, because the hum would move across the screen.
TAYLOR: It would show up. How about signal level meters?
PALMER: No, we did not do that.
TAYLOR: You didn’t do that. Did you have anything to use? Was Jerrold’s 704B available at that time?
PALMER: A Jerrold meter was available, I don’t remember which one.
TAYLOR: Probably the 704, I think so.
PALMER: I was a government witness at the Jerrold anti-trust trial, against Jerrold.
TAYLOR: This was the side Norm Penwell was in. I think this was the first anti-trust. Is that the one you were speaking of?
TAYLOR: Norm, was in that because we had been building … I was in the hospital, but our group was building a system in Livingston, Montana. Phil Hamlin was the Jerrold representative and he was over working with Paul McAdam in Livingston. Norm and Jack Penwell and Bruce Hamilton were all building … working on ours in Livingston. It was a cable race. Coincidentally, they all came in to a little coffee shop one time for coffee. Phil Hamlin and Paul McAdam were on one side of the room, and Norm and Jack and Bruce on the other side, and they began shouting invectives across to each other. Finally, Phil Hamlin said, “We are going to run you guys straight out of business!” It was that testimony, and some other things about the service contract that you had to sign, that Norm was one of the witnesses. But it was about, probably in the mid-seventies, that Norm was at one of the conventions, and Milt was there, and they met, and Milt wouldn’t talk to Norman. He wouldn’t even speak to him.
PALMER: Now this shows the … here’s the line amplifier, and this is the six tubes of the distributed and here is this “z” shaped chassis. So the tube socket was just perched on half the side, with the plates on one side, and the grids on the other, and this power supply and this cover over the top.
TAYLOR: Are those 6AK5 tubes?
PALMER: 6AK5’s, and then later, 5654’s, a military version. Now here’s where the scope sweep generators, our own, I guess we had three varieties of this sweep generator–a Simpson model and a Kay. Now this doesn’t seem to list a … it says, “field strength meters four units.” So I don’t remember what the model number was … now maybe we didn’t call them out, because they were Jerrold.
TAYLOR: That could be.
PALMER: This brochure would have had to have been 1958, ’59. There are some other items in here of this date.
TAYLOR: Is anything like this in the museum now, at the Center?
PALMER: Probably not. My intent is to have the oral history with Strat soon. I guess that “soon” is after we get back from the Cayman in March of next year, and to get all of this stuff to him with that recording. I’m going to save a little bit, probably. I’m a saver, but also we want to get rid of it for some other reasons. We need the space … we are so much involved in art. You will see that later on with a tour of gallery A.
PALMER: Here we are talking about our “firsts” in the community television industry … “wideband distributed amplifiers were RF distribution” … we were the low band people … “cable powered electronic equipment for systems … messenger mounting” … and then “ultra low noise preamplifiers with 3 to 5 dB lower noise figure than other units on the market.”
TAYLOR: That was the thing I remember from CECO was the low noise preamp.
PALMER: We had cascade circuits. A preamplifier would be probably this kind of unit here. We had to do everything with a same mechanical housing, but then as soon as the planar triodes became available, and we started with a 6299, and then the 7077. The 7077 was … General Electric made that tube, and it was going to revolutionize the UHF reception … which it didn’t and UHF reception never really got that big a go. We used that tube and General Electric … they were wonderful in support. If we had a problem, we could exchange the tubes without really documenting what and when. They trusted us; they helped us and supported us. I think GE was a wonderful supplier to deal with.
We made very low noise preamplifiers. We got a patent on a socket for 7077. We had a cavity for UHF frequencies, which worked, works very well. It was just a sheet metal box of different sizes, with a screw in the back to tune it … quite simple, model shop kind of construction that worked fine.
TAYLOR: Did that go into a preamp?
PALMER: Yes. Would this be the input stage?
TAYLOR: Yes, it would, if …
PALMER: Let’s return that, too.
PALMER: So we could … we had equalizers. I think we had, early on, sound traps to attenuate the sound carriers. Well, this was a picture of all of our data sheets that showed our messenger mounting. Obviously, cable powering … here’s a 1959 price list of … so this is, there is a sweep generator … cable powering … do you want to …
TAYLOR: Is that really the earliest catalog?
PALMER: This is probably the earliest I have.
TAYLOR: That would be more useful than this … first of all, it’s undated.
PALMER: These things are undated, too.
TAYLOR: The price list is dated … puts it in a time frame, anyway.
PALMER: This book was put together way back then. Another early thing that we did was pilot generated automatic level control system. “Maintains superior automatic level control in terms of a 74 megahertz reference signal, introduced at the antenna site.” We may well have been the first to do that. And later on, I think we were the first to use two pilots. And we used that first in amplifiers that we supplied to Sruki Switzer for the antenna site run from seventeen miles west of Mississauga, Toronto, area. This was the amplifier which had replaced the two strips. You put it in our own sheet metal, so this could plug into a Jerrold power supply, or plug into our power supply. This was the automatic level control chassis for this.
TAYLOR: Now, when you came in with the two pilot, was that after the transistor development, or was that on tubes?
PALMER: I think that would be transistor.
TAYLOR: That was my recollection.
PALMER: We really didn’t need it on a low band system.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
PALMER: And our pilot was in the middle … 74 megahertz, so we had three channels below and two above.
TAYLOR: And that was really just flat gain control, wasn’t it, or did it tilt at the same time?
PALMER: I think it always was tilted.
End of Tape 1, Side A
Start Tape 1, Side B
TAYLOR: We are back on the record now. We missed a little bit, but I don’t believe that it’s anything especially critical.
PALMER: Now the rest of this book covers the cable systems.
TAYLOR: I see TV set rental. Is that a business you got into?
PALMER: Just in a peripheral manner in State College and in State College only. We owned and leased these television sets in the State College Hotel and the area hospital. The owner and manager of the State College Hotel was Matty Mateer, who was chairman of the board of our company. We owned the sets and the Women’s Auxiliary in Bellefonte Hospital rented the sets to patients. That was their fund raising project.
TAYLOR: Primarily in the hospitals then?
PALMER: Right, but that was about the limit of it. Rest of this information … to go on to Cablevision …
TAYLOR: One thing of technical interest that was mentioned after the tape had run out is that Walter Brown used open wire line in the Bellefonte system.
TAYLOR: Which is interesting. Do you know the timing of that?
PALMER: That would have been before I was around.
TAYLOR: Prior to what, 1953?
PALMER: It would be prior to that. Let me see here. “In 1951, the Bellefonte Company, then the Central Pennsylvania Corporation, began a television cable service to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania” … so that was 1951. “The system initially carried only one channel, Channel 13 from Johnstown, the only channel available at that time. The system was later expanded to carry three channels: Channel 8, Lancaster; Channel 10, Altoona; and Channel 6, Johnstown. Each channel will carry as Channel 2, 4 and 6 on the Jerrold strip system.”
TAYLOR: There was a whole system up in White Fish, Montana that was originally built with two wire open lines. The taps were on some hooks that they hooked over the two wires. That was changed pretty quickly.
PALMER: Here are some claims that … do you want me to switch?
PALMER: Follow this?
TAYLOR: Whatever seems to come naturally. I’d just like to cover these points when we get to them.
PALMER: Okay. Here it is printed in our loose leaf catalog, on a page dated ’76, that “in 1953 we had the first messenger mounted; in 1953, the first cable powering; in 1954, first pilot controlled automatic level control system; in 1965, first use of integrated circuits; 1966, first high output solid state equipment.” This use of integrated circuits would not have been for the main amplifier. This would have been for other uses … control circuits.
TAYLOR: These were IC chips?
PALMER: Yes. Because our high output, solid state equipment … We stayed with stud-mounted transistors in a cascade, I guess you would say, in a modified cascade output configuration, for quite a while, even after others were using the hybrid amplifiers.
TAYLOR: Did you ever have amplifiers that were strictly discrete transistors?
PALMER: Yes, since we had our own output stage, the rest of it would be discrete transistors, also.
TAYLOR: But not the integrated circuits?
TAYLOR: This was before the integrated circuits, then?
PALMER: Before the hybrid.
TAYLOR: Before the hybrid.
PALMER: The main amplifier integrated circuits … My statement here on 1965 first integrated circuits were, “Integrated circuits in the control circuitry, not in the amplifier stage.”
TAYLOR: I see.
PALMER: “’68, first used the modulated pilots.” Now we felt, and I still feel, and I don’t know what the practice is now, but that modulated pilot gives a lot of advantages over a CW pilot.
TAYLOR: Do you want to cite some of those? Is this modulation, special modulation or TV modulation?
PALMER: Special modulation.
TAYLOR: Special, okay. You don’t have DC circuits to deal with?
PALMER: Right. You’re dealing with AC circuits in the amplifier, not DC circuits. I guess that’s the primary thing.
TAYLOR: I understand.
PALMER: “’69, first use of heat fins on castings; 1970, first UHF converter with crystal oven and a Schotke key mixer; ’71, first AC power port for trunk amplifier stations.” Well, we’re reaching there … “’72, first MATV amplifiers with a CATV quality. In ’73, we had a hub antenna site, multi-output amplifier. ’75, DC to DC standby power source, and ’76, first loop back two-way amplifier with automatic reversing.”
TAYLOR: Interesting. My recollection is that you were one of the first, if not the first, to use multiple output transistors, almost parallel hybrid, but not quite.
TAYLOR: I well remember when George Dixon was demonstrating that, and I was up at a meeting or something, I have forgotten what it was now, but talking about those two outputs, gave you the additional output capability. Not quite the parallel hybrid, because you didn’t combine the outputs, but I guess you had a splitter at the drive on the two transistors. One of them you even had four, didn’t you? Four output transistors?
TAYLOR: That didn’t become very popular as I recall … didn’t go very well until they really came out. Well, feed forward was moving, and the hybrid was the answer to feed forward by some competitors.
PALMER: Oh, then along we came up with the philosophy that the amplifier spacing was a function of system size, which it is. And I did a IEEE paper in 1966, and you did some work for me on that. So we had three amplifiers, 22 dB gain, 32 dB and 40 dB. And we were quite successful in the 32 dB amplifier … did a lot of systems with that.
TAYLOR: Would those be, then, the smaller systems?
PALMER: Yes, less length and have a higher …
TAYLOR: Yes. One thing that has intrigued me for many, many years, is why 22 dB? It’s a standard, it’s common. They’re up a little higher now. I remember when somebody calculated the Naperian optimum of about 9 dB, 8 something dB gain, and yet everything seemed to come up at 22 dB, or 21, something in that neighborhood. I always wondered, “what drove that.” Do you have any thoughts on that?
An interesting sideline, I was called down to Allentown, by John Walsonavich’s bank … wanted me to make a technical review, because of some borrowing that John was doing. We went out to the end of his system, looking at pictures and checking some performance figures out there, and amazingly, you had 56 amplifiers in cascade, and yet we were getting good results out there … at least acceptable results. So, finally I asked him for one of his amplifiers … they were home built. I got them down to Washington, and we ran some tests on them, and discovered that they’re an average of about 10 or 11 dB gain. Here was the Naperian number, showing up in actual performance, and you prove it! Took a lot of amplifiers … 56 amplifiers would be equivalent to what … maybe 28 or something like that, which was not bad. But I guess I often wondered what drove it up to 22 dB, and I suspect that it was not scientific logic, but maybe economic logic.
PALMER: Well, it probably was what Jerrold was offering and everybody … you had to copy what Jerrold was doing.
TAYLOR: You’re exactly right.
PALMER: There’s other work. Derald Cummings did some work on optimum amplifier spacing. His work showed that the 9 dB didn’t really work, because you couldn’t maintain the low noise figure. It wouldn’t have high enough output to drive the output device that had an optimum output. So, it was the inter stages of the amplifier which really drove what the amplifier … what you could get the best overall reach … optimize the noise, optimize the output, but you have to have them further apart than 9 dB, and to do that it would take more gain. Anyway, C-COR had multiple spacing and at one point, we were talking with 3M in St. Paul. They had a group that was developing a rural telephone system.
TAYLOR: I remember they had something or other, CS Cubed, or C-Cubed, or something?
PALMER: Oh, that’s right. CS Cubed, CS Squared … something like that.
TAYLOR: Something of that sort, yes, you are right.
PALMER: I was trying to come up last night with what that was called. Okay, I can’t remember the guys name. They had a scientist, who I think was hired for that project, as well as a project manager, and I can’t remember his name. Anyway, as we were getting … I don’t know if we had gotten the job, I think maybe we had gotten job, but they selected us based on reliability. They had an interesting … well, it is a sophisticated company to begin with. I think it’s one of our better technical companies in this country … the way they function, the way they operate, the way they give their technical people 10 percent time to work on things that they want to work on, which has developed a lot of interesting things. You know, this “Post-It” thing, came out of that. In fact, I think it was a secretary that came up with that.
Anyway, this scientist called me one day, and said, “You know, if we get to looking at these systems, we ought not to be stuck with a fixed spacing. We ought to space these amplifiers at different spacing, depending on the length of run.” I said, “Well, that’s very interesting. I’ll send you a paper on that!” I think generally that wasn’t worth … that was the only place where somebody was really excited about that capability. So we developed two, or maybe three amplifiers for them, for this telephone system. Built two systems, and they really didn’t pan out. The telephone set itself was a transceiver. I don’t remember what their telephone set was, so maybe I better not say that. Then later, we did work for Collins Radio, and Collins Radio wanted two-way amplifiers.
Well, let me go back to 3M. 3M selected C-COR because of our reliability. And what they did to determine what our reliability was, they went to cable systems, got in, and got to the repair technician, and audited his repair records. And they did this for half a dozen companies. Then they got to a system that was C-COR and found out that there were drastically lower repair frequency than other systems. I think after we got that, we had some information, but we started analyzing our own repair information. I’ve got that someplace … repair cost as a function of sales volume. We started advertising reliability.
TAYLOR: Don Dworkin would certainly testify to that! You put the one in somewhere in Tennessee … Manchester, was it? Said the screwdriver technician installed them, the way he was told to install them, and the thing checked out perfectly, and they never had to touch it. Didn’t know anything about it.
PALMER: We set a hundred thousand hours MTBF. Then the next system, the telephone type system, we did …
TAYLOR: When you say telephone type, was this to be in the rural areas to serve telephone as well as television?
PALMER: Yes. The 3M system was definitely for television and telephone.
TAYLOR: They were looking for REA money, is what they were looking for?
PALMER: Yes, they were looking for REA money. Now, Collins Radio did a telephone system, and I don’t think television was necessarily a part of that.
TAYLOR: I see.
PALMER: Because the system was installed in office buildings. Of course, they could be interested in some video transmission … there would be nothing to prohibit video transmission. So their system obviously required two-way. But their telephone set … you pick up the set, signal was detected by a central computer, dialed the number. The computer then assigned a pair of frequencies to send and receive. So that, literally, there was no switching equipment, there was simply frequency assignments. They put one in one of their buildings in Cedar Rapids, and we supplied equipment to do an office building in Caracas. One advantage, you could move a telephone set any place in the system, and your telephone number remained the same.
TAYLOR: When was this? Was this in the seventies?
PALMER: It might have been later than that. Two-way amplifiers were pretty well known commodities.
TAYLOR: Oh yes. The two-way came in the mid-sixties I would say … somewhere in there. I’m sure it was late sixties, probably.
PALMER: I think we did more midband split than most of our competitors, so we had more flexibility. These would have been midband systems, so you have about equal bandwidth in each direction.
TAYLOR: You still have problem with the ingress, unless you have the sleeve connectors and some other RFI protections. That was what the people at EIE experienced. They were one of the first to do a two-way I think, and they had a terrible time with the ingress. They couldn’t figure out where it was coming up from for a while, but it was an awful lot of problem.
PALMER: Or look at the fact that ingress, is …
TAYLOR: Is just coming from anywhere.
PALMER: All of this …
TAYLOR: From the whole system.
TAYLOR: So, it wasn’t until we had the integrated sleeve, or integral sleeve, on the connector that we began to control that mess.
PALMER: I think there were … weren’t there some attempts to sectionalize the system so that different bands from different areas, to reduce the points of ingress.
TAYLOR: Yes, and of course that’s going really to the end with the fiber backbone now. You come in, and divide down into small areas. Now you can handle the return from a very small area. Typically, currently, there are a couple thousand households, of which you’ve got a percentage of subscribers. Of those, only a percentage use the two-way. But now they’re down to going to 500 homes per optical receiver, and almost certainly, will in the near future, go to 200, maybe even to 100.
PALMER: Would that be due to noise … the return noise?
TAYLOR: No, this is due entirely to be able to use fiber efficiently and effectively and the deeper you can get the fiber, the more you can use it for other services like PCS, or alternative access, whatever.
PALMER: Well, I guess it’s more and more like a star system.
TAYLOR: Yes, it is. It becomes a star. Although sometimes they put the fiber in a partial tree and branch, but that’s limited.
PALMER: Here is a discussion, 1976, of hybrids versus discretes and that “C-COR insisted on doing the best possible job for its customers. Therefore, engineers choose the gain block, discrete or hybrid, that would do the best job of meeting performance specifications, and do it reliably.” And our sticking with discretes a lot longer than others, was based on the reliability.
TAYLOR: We were talking about hybrids versus discretes, and you indicated that you stuck with the discretes perhaps longer than other companies, based primarily on reliability.
PALMER: But at this time, the end of ’76, I can tell by the way this is written, that “we choose whichever is best to do the job … but reliability is part of it.” But the fact that we are even mentioning hybrids here means that we are looking at hybrids. I am sure that we changed at least some of our amplifiers and maybe most of our amplifiers at that point. I maintained a close relationship with the hybrid suppliers. I have to believe that it was a closer relationship than our competitors did. I personally visited the TRW and Motorola every year and usually got to fairly high levels. On one visit to TRW, I met with the senior vice president that had responsibility for all solid state devices, because his people thought that he should talk to me.
Another trip to Motorola … we were having … the industry was having a hard time getting hybrids, because they were in short supply. Manufacturers said that they just weren’t going to make so many, because they just weren’t making enough money. That it was not as profitable for them and that’s why they were not increasing production. But everybody was screaming for hybrids. And I told Motorola that, “Look, the solution is simple.” I said, “Raise your prices!” “Well, we can’t … TRW over here.” I said, “What do you think TRW is going to do … raise your prices?” They were flabbergasted that a supplier would come and tell them to raise prices. And they said that. I really had a good relationship with both companies.
TAYLOR: When did the hybrids first come into the cable market? It would have been before ’76.
PALMER: It would have been before this. I would guess maybe a couple of years before.
TAYLOR: It wasn’t very long after that you did a hybrid selection and got up to 340 megahertz, upper limit with selected hybrids, as one of the first that got beyond 300.
PALMER: We really kept pushing the limits. I think we were, early on, higher and higher. And even today, and with some of the same technicians doing the one gigahertz amplifier for Queens, and that work, hybrids weren’t available. C-COR did development on their own hybrid and then maybe forced hybrid manufacturers to come up with a … I guess my information is very sketchy, but I have had that information. Now, hybrids are available for one gigahertz. But John Pavlic was making the first hybrids that C-COR was using for that job.
TAYLOR: For the Brooklyn-Queens?
TAYLOR: John Pavlic, is he TRW … I mean, Motorola?
PALMER: No, he’s a C-COR un-degreed engineer.
TAYLOR: Okay. Colin Horton was doing some of that. Wasn’t he involved in that to some extent?
PALMER: No. Horton has always been in the system design, the application, and not in the equipment development.
TAYLOR: Okay, he was just reporting on what was going on?
PALMER: Right. We had always been very much aware of the heat dissipation. I see here, in this ’76 catalog, a section on thermal design. This was an area where I felt I had something specific to contribute and was generally in on heat dissipation methods. I had taken a General Electric in-house course on thermal design, heat dissipation … used a book by King, and other internal General Electric information … very excellent information and course. Which really led us to the fins, beryllium oxide as an electric insulator, which also is a decent heat transfer agent. I think we are going to see a lot more of this kind of thing, particularly, when we can artificially produce diamonds, because “diamond” is a material that is a good electrical insulator with very good thermal transfer.
TAYLOR: Is that a fact? I didn’t know that.
PALMER: So that when we can make the deposited diamonds … I was an investor and a board member of a company here–Diamond Materials, Inc.–which was engaged in that.
TAYLOR: It’s very simple. All you have to do is press it hard enough and heat it high enough and you’ve got diamonds!
PALMER: Well, we were using vapor deposition methods. Had some success, but we were too early, and not enough money to back it up. The Japanese are doing a lot and there is a diamond material consortium at the Materials Research Laboratory at Penn State. There is something in this morning’s local newspaper about diamonds and the diamond approach. Barbara mentioned it and I didn’t look at it yet. I’ve lost enough money on diamonds for a while.
TAYLOR: Very interesting story on heat. Back in the early days of transistors … Do you remember Hank Abajian.
TAYLOR: And do you know his story about Vermont? He claims to have built the first transistor amplifier in the cable business. He would use it for running down a mountain side. He said one of problems he found was that in the cold temperature, they all went to pot. So he had to put 10 watt heaters inside every chassis in order to keep it warm enough. That was the only time in history, I guess, that you ever kept a transistor heated! I have been trying to locate him, to get him to tell me that story on tape, but I haven’t found him yet.
PALMER: “Duel pilot control systems.” So we had that in ’76–modulated pilots. “One of the advantages reduction of RF gain requirements, which simplifies circuitry and improves a reliability … and then the use of AC amplifiers. Since our pilot control was slope controlled, in cascades up to 10 trunk, trunk amplifiers, single pilot is all that’s necessary.”
TAYLOR: And they were slope controlled?
PALMER: They were always slope controlled. C-COR’s problem was we couldn’t sell. We had to have a technical customer.
TAYLOR: How about Don Dworkin?
PALMER: And there were others … Switzer.
TAYLOR: And Switzer, yes.
PALMER: Or, you know, Warner, Warner Amex. Who was the technical VP there? Peter Alden. One year they bought $10 million worth of amplifiers for C-COR. We did every major city they did.
TAYLOR: Didn’t Dworkin then eventually go over to Warner at one time?
TAYLOR: I guess he’s retired now, probably.
PALMER: I think maybe Dworkin was … now, was he with ATC?
TAYLOR: No, he was never with ATC.
PALMER: He was never with ATC or Manhattan Cable?
TAYLOR: I don’t believe so. He’d been with … Of course, he started with Blonder-Tongue, then Arthur Baum of Vikoa. In fact, he did the first electronics for that company. Then he left that. Don’t know if there was something in between. But when Irving Kahn sold his New Jersey group to the New York Times, Dworkin went to work for the New York Times.
PALMER: Okay, all right. Yes, and we sold a lot of the equipment.
TAYLOR: Now who was he with when he bought the thing down for Tennessee? Maybe that was Warner … either Warner Amex or just Warner. I can’t remember now. But he sure became a believer in C-COR at that time. Said it to me many times when I was down there.
PALMER: I guess our first success with ATC was with the Manhattan Cable System, although that was pretty late that ATC got involved. Well, anyway, Bob Tenten, and we, I sold them on … finally on what they call their “block amplifiers.” They had been using DBC, Delta-Benco-Cascade, because they had higher outputs. Said so right on the spec sheet.
TAYLOR: Dolan has been so tied in with Jerrold on everything, I’m surprised …
PALMER: Now Dolan, this was …
TAYLOR: This was after Dolan sold to Time.
PALMER: No, this was Manhattan Cable Television, which was a separate company.
TAYLOR: No, but that was started by Dolan, because I did some work for him. Then he sold it, well, because ATC was 40 percent owner, and ATC just bought the rest of it.
PALMER: Schultz was the guy that I started working with there.
TAYLOR: Oh, yes, Freddy. He’s in Switzerland now.
PALMER: Freddy Schultz, he’s in Zurich.
TAYLOR: Yes. I got Freddy that job at Manhattan Cable. And every time I go abroad and get into Switzerland, he’s so grateful for me getting him that job. I didn’t do anything, I just gave his name.
PALMER: He came to State College after I left C-COR, three or four years ago, and called me and came to see me over on Greenbrier Drive. And said, “Boy, look me up if you ever get to Zurich.” Anyway, so we started selling some amplifiers to Manhattan Cable. I think that was Bob Tenten, but the higher output units, they still use DBC. Until one day they added the thirty-third channel and things went to pot. And so they started measuring, and found out in the real world, that our amplifier had 10 dB more output than these DBC amplifiers, so we supplied them with a lot of amplifiers. About 4,000 amplifiers in that lower half of Manhattan are all C-COR. Reliability was a part of that, and performance was part of it. This is a complete catalog at a given time.
TAYLOR: Might talk a little bit about the 400 megahertz bit. Sruki Switzer pushed that very, very hard, on the basis of Warner. No, it wasn’t Warner … Warner was his opposition, I think, in Atlanta.
PALMER: Would this be Rogers?
TAYLOR: No, maybe it was the Mid-America group. At any rate, he pushed very hard. I guessed he must have pushed on you, too, to get the 400 megahertz operation because you and I were on a panel together, and both of us were, I suppose we’d be called negative on the 400 megahertz. I felt it just wasn’t ready and, I guess essentially, that’s what you felt. I would be interested in your views, if you can recall, how it came about and whatever your thoughts are on that.
PALMER: My thoughts were that this was a franchise gimmick, a sales ploy and meant what I said, “It wasn’t ready yet.” But, I hope that was the truthful approach at that point in time, because there were other times when we used the frequency game, when we knew that we could do it and it was there, we used that as a sales plug.
TAYLOR: Well, that was a 340 megahertz thing. That was definitely a sales tool and caused us a little trouble in one of our franchise proceedings, because a competitor had come in and talked about spacing for 400, or something like that … because C-COR amplifier was already there. But it was an interesting development. Many people at that time though, thought that, “Who needs fifty channels?” “Who in the world could use fifty channels?” This was happening really before the satellite revolution had really started to go. They had the Mississippi and Florida demonstration from the prize fight in Manila, but it hadn’t produced much for the industry operator. It wasn’t long after that the networks, the satellite networks, began to explode, and the need for fifty channels was soon apparent, very soon.
You’ve talked off and on as we go along about your manufacturing philosophy, and I think that’s one of the key features that I know about C-COR. You may be interested in a little story that I was … in making an investigation of different equipment for a client. And one of things I wanted to do was to check quality assurance programs. I came to C-COR, I went to Jerrold, and I went to Vikoa. And it’s a classic distinction between those three. I went to Vikoa, probably first, and Vikoa’s quality assurance was “all I want is to get paid.” They had some charts and some things they worked with. I came to the conclusion that you can’t have quality product when you have to hire people out of Hoboken. It’s almost that simple. Then I went to Jerrold, and they were in the midst of quality assurance program for Western Electric. And Western had a booth, their own room, with all their test equipment, and they were going through the amplifiers. They were doing this on a lot basis … standard sampling lot basis. And I guess it was a pretty good program. They had a regular …
PALMER: A statistical program?
TAYLOR: A laid out program, a statistical program, yes. I came up to C-COR and C-COR didn’t have any quality assurance program. They just hired people that did the job right to begin with! And of course, you ran tests, but it was dependent on the quality of people that were doing the work. It was so clear the distinction on these things.
PALMER: Well, on the hybrid bit we literally had a thirty channel test that ran on every hybrid on incoming inspections. So, we probably did more output testing of the … as we characterized the hybrid on receipt.
End of Tape 1, Side B
Start Tape 2, Side A
TAYLOR: The leader has gone through … we are back in business.
PALMER: I have always been interested in technical activities, in technical quality, engineering excellence. That’s why we merged our cable system operation into TCI. I wanted to get out of that business. We did very well at it but … You talk about the one thing that Irving Kahn did of putting together all those franchises in New Jersey. Well, hell, we had done that the decade before in Pittsburgh. Allegheny County has something like 125 municipalities. At one point, of those franchised, we had 80 percent of the franchises. I think in Allegheny and Beaver Counties we had 70 or 80 franchises that went together to make our system. So that was all our doing, our franchises and all C-COR equipment. Then we sold that to TCI … We didn’t sell it, we merged with TCI and got TCI stock, which hasn’t done that badly.
Then Warner Amex comes along with the city of Pittsburgh, and that’s all C-COR amplifiers. When they had their grand opening with the mayor and city council and everything else, they invited me to the opening. And I went, fortunately, and I got down there and started talking to Peter Alden and I said, “You know, I don’t see any other vendors here.” He said, “Well, they weren’t invited.” And I really felt honored.
TAYLOR: I should think.
PALMER: We were smaller than other companies because we didn’t sell as well, I think. We couldn’t get the pitch across of our technical superiority.
TAYLOR: Was there a price disadvantage? I can’t remember now.
PALMER: I don’t think there really was a price disadvantage when you really got down to it.
TAYLOR: Not significant. One difference was that the Jerrold’s and the Magnavox’s and so on, the Texcans, would deal and they would make discounts, ad hoc discounts and you would never do that. You had a volume discount, and you’d take this, or not. That may have hurt. To some extent, I suppose, with people like Gene Schneider and Chuck Dolan, they had been with Jerrold almost from the beginning and it’s habit. They didn’t see any reason to change.
PALMER: Well, and you can be … You know, if you have a system that doesn’t work and you’re with Jerrold … your stockholders, your investors they have a hard time criticizing you. But if you make a change and go to a small company, a “C-COR,” you know, “Why did you make that change when everybody else is …?”
TAYLOR: Yes, it’s true, that somebody evaluating a property, it was better to say it was Jerrold equipment than it was to say it was somebody else’s equipment. Not because it was necessarily any better, but …
PALMER: And particularly if they couldn’t technically understand why it was better.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
PALMER: Gene Schneider had a chief engineer. I can see him, I can’t come up with his name. It was under Richard, the next step down. He didn’t believe probably any of the stuff that I’ve said this morning. I just hadn’t sold him. I don’t think he had the technical capability that Richard did.
TAYLOR: It was kind of a puzzle to me. If Richard was certainly capable of understanding it, there must have been something else in that set up. Gene may have been in close association with Jerrold and Shapp, but … it’s hard to say. They have done a great job of marketing, however, there is no question about that.
PALMER: Well, it’s limited scope. We have limited our scope by avoiding all these other areas.
TAYLOR: Is that a conscious decision?
TAYLOR: To some extent, that may have been a problem, because in the earlier days–the developing days– when new investors were coming into the business, they wanted a turn key. They wanted everything! And if they could get it all from one company, that is what they wanted. Well, Bruce tried to have cable along with all the other equipment … converters. He had the whole works … that didn’t work out.
PALMER: I think some of my commentary letters … Well, this is a commentary letter, . You got one of those every month. Talked about the failures in the industry, and there were plenty that failed.
TAYLOR: Yes, there were.
PALMER: They were chasing these other things, and making deals and getting business and no profit.
TAYLOR: SKL had some of the same problems. They made only amplifiers and passive devices, and not the rest of the equipment. So, somebody had to be knowledgeable enough to say, “Buy C-COR amplifiers, but buy Jerrold headend,” or whatever. And they would go talk to the Jerrold people about buying a headend, and then Jerrold would talk them into buying the rest of their equipment. So, I suspect that was part of what hurt. On the other hand, whether the advantage would have been worth the cost, I don’t know.
PALMER: I guess we have talked about most of these things, except “surge protectors.”
TAYLOR: Yes, that was one of your developments that was innovative.
PALMER: Right. And I think that was a very important development, and a very important contributor to our reliability. I just have no question at all that was a major item.
TAYLOR: Do you recall when that began to be instituted, time wise?
PALMER: Let’s see, I don’t think it’s in this, even in this catalog.
TAYLOR: Meaning it was after ’76?
TAYLOR: Derald Cummings was involved in that, wasn’t he?
PALMER: I think he was, George Dixon and Derald Cummings. It’s a diac… that fired a triac.
TAYLOR: Where are those guys now?
PALMER: They are both in this area.
TAYLOR: Out of the cable business though?
PALMER: Yes. George had a shop on Benner Pike. He does some wood carving.
TAYLOR: Oh really?
PALMER: Yes. Cummings, I think he works for Locus. Well, he worked for Locus at one time … maybe he’s still there. I can’t give you dates, but as the technology evolved, we went push-pull, feed-forward and parallel.
TAYLOR: Well, push-pull is really a function of the transistor … perhaps a necessary function of the transistor. Is that a correct statement? So when you got into the solid state amplifiers … well, though it was also the midband transmission.
PALMER: It was more than twelve channels, and you really had to have push-pull to cancel the second order products.
TAYLOR: To get through … that’s right.
PALMER: So, it was push-pull that allowed the … to go beyond twelve channels.
TAYLOR: You never went through the single ended, second order cancellation that Sylvania and AEL went through. If you properly phase the amplifier, which is really done by biasing the transistor, you could get a periodic cancellation over every three or four amplifiers. The end product, at the end, if it were done right, was that the second order was quite reduced. Both of them tried hard to sell that. In fact, even up to the time Sylvania was acquired by Texscan, they were still using, on some of their amplifiers, the single ended second order cancellation. AEL, I guess, went out of that business before they went to push-pull.
PALMER: Yes. We never used that, we were always …
TAYLOR: Feed-forward, that was how I first met Joe Prescutti. He did thorough analysis of that, and talked to me a good many times about it … very perceptive. I learned a lot from talking to him about it.
PALMER: Yes, he did a lot of work in that. A lot of work analyzing it … how an amplifier went together, and what …
TAYLOR: He did very good work on that, very good work. And the parallel hybrid, that came from … Well, I guess Jerrold had used it actually before it was hybrid, in a certain form, but it didn’t work very well because their splitters were not adequate. So the real parallel hybrid probably came from Amperex, Magnavox, Philips, who put the device in single housing, and that seemed to be the first one that really took off.
PALMER: Now SCAT, my son Chuck had a lot to do with SCAT. I don’t know who invented SCAT … if it was me, or Joe or Chuck, or all three of us. From what I can tell, the system that we came up with is essentially … I guess two or three years ago, I was at a cable trade show where I talked to the Scientific Atlanta guy. Went down there, interdiction system, or whatever they call it … you know, and as I recall, it was feature for feature exactly what SCAT was.
TAYLOR: You know, interdiction is a jamming system.
PALMER: That’s what SCAT was. SCAT is a jamming system, an interdiction, pure and simple, or pure and complex, purely. And the same as what Scientific Atlanta’s … are they selling it?
TAYLOR: A few. The idea of the compressed digital transmission compression has slowed it down, because people visualize that we’re going to have to have a box in the house anyway to decompress the signal … so they’re not buying … They’re staying with the box.
PALMER: Well, I think we did. We spent a lot of money on SCAT. We thought we had a customer … we had a customer named Westinghouse, Brad Johnson. Brad told us he was going to use this in a system and, I think, the system changed a couple of times. We built prototype equipment to go into this system. Built it, got ready to install it, wanted a date, and equivocations, etc. Finally he said, “Oops, we changed our minds.” There was nothing we could do about it. The thing is, if we had a customer, a committed customer, that worked with us, and stayed with us, I think SCAT would be out there today as a viable process. I was really thrilled when I listened to the Scientific Atlanta guy describe our system. I really felt good about that.
TAYLOR: Boy, I had the wrong impression of SCAT. I had it all wrong. I thought it was basically an off premises switching system, convertor system. I’ll be darned.
PALMER: Totally interdiction.
TAYLOR: What kind of jamming did it do? Like the Tanner negative trap or positive trap?
PALMER: No, they were …
TAYLOR: Frequency hopping?
TAYLOR: Were they really? I’ll be darned. I didn’t know that.
PALMER: They were RF signals. Now, just how those signals operated, I don’t remember.
TAYLOR: Is any of that in your material?
PALMER: I haven’t looked through the rest of this. Chuck would know and remember. If you have an hour someday, you could give him a call. So our SCAT … we put a lot of money in it. Our customers pigged out on us. And then we had one small customer who put it in his system and they’ve had a lot of problems. Some of which might have been, you know, cockpit problems … customer problems. He was a poor customer. Technically incompetent or didn’t have the technical ability to work with it and with us to come through an Alpha test, or a Beta test with the system. And eventually to be marketed, it had to be on integrated circuits. The guts of it would have to be large scale integration. I actually made a trip to Korea to talk with Hyundai, who was starting a large electronics company, on the idea of their developing, or their carrying forward on the development of the hybrid.
TAYLOR: The LSI.
PALMER: They expressed interest, and really at that time, I don’t think they had the capability. The man that we started … Hamied Hydery, he’s now vice president of engineering at C-COR, went over there, made the first trip over there. He was surprised that the Korean man he was talking with had gotten his three electrical engineering degrees at Penn State. Then, by the time we got over there, he had just left the company and was coming back to the United States, and it was somebody else we were dealing with. But it turned out that we saw he and his wife in Seoul. Let’s see, his relationship was his aunt is the registrar at the Palmer Museum of Art and her husband was the acting head of electrical engineering at Penn State.
TAYLOR: For goodness sake! Did you know this in advance? Was it the reason why you went to Hyundai?
PALMER: We knew that about the time we made the trip.
TAYLOR: I see.
PALMER: Since then, we’ve stopped in Tokyo and our guide in Tokyo was Suni, who was the registrar’s sister. Her husband was a high-up official for IBM in Tokyo. We were in their residence, a 3,000 square foot apartment. They took just delightful care of us. They were Koreans but American citizens. We ate street food … got to see the kids dancing in the streets on Sunday–just interesting things. We’ve seen them further.
PALMER: Well, data transmission. Cliff Shrock worked on a lot of things … was not too closely controlled. C-COR’s treasurer failed to really keep tabs and a strict control over him and he spent himself into oblivion. I like Cliff, thought he was capable, and inventive but very difficult to control. As soon as I left the scene at C-COR, Perry went after him with a vengeance. I don’t know what the eventual outcome was. Probably got his house and everything else because he felt that C-COR was really being taken. Yes, maybe that was it.
TAYLOR: Cliff is back with Cablebus. Our guy, Jim Kearney, was in Korea doing some work for a small company over there. They wanted some, I guess, home security type equipment. Nobody makes that here but Cliff was willing to provide it. He went to Korea and got the sale. But everything he had to build the stuff came C.O.D. and he was having money trouble meeting the C.O.D.’s, so you knew he was in financial straights.
TAYLOR: I think he finally got the job done but it was messy. In those straights, he was cutting corners and one thing and another.
PALMER: Yes, I was really sorry about that. I thought that I could control Cliff from the technical end if our treasurer had really put the screws to him on the financial end.
TAYLOR: Well, it was the right thinking to get into the digital operation, and Cliff seemed to be a good one to move in that direction. But, as you say, other things conspired to prevent it.
PALMER: He lost a lot of money for a lot of people.
TAYLOR: Well, the Cablebus I guess … Who were the original owners? It was one of the telephone companies–Pacific Bell or …
PALMER: No, the originals were the head guy at Tektronics. Another, I think, was chairman, CEO/founder of Tektronics and with him was the head of another big electronics outfit out there. Maybe the outfit with the heads-up display. Then Cablebus was sold to Pacific Bell, whatever the telephone company is with headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. Cliff didn’t get along with them and then couldn’t … Cablebus was in two sections. There was the labs and then the manufacture of the alarm business. And I went out with the Pacific Bell … that name is not quite right.
TAYLOR: Maybe it’s Pacific Northwest Bell?
PALMER: Bought Cablebus Labs from them. They didn’t know what they had and they didn’t want it anyway and were tired of … They could get rid of Shrock in the process, so I bought it. I pumped money into it for maybe three years and then left.
TAYLOR: I get the feeling the Comlux division, that they have now acquired, is probably a good acquisition. I don’t know anything about the financial details of it, but having that capability … it seems to be a pretty highly respected capability to match C-COR’s standards, or standards you set. At least you were in the right direction.
PALMER: Now, future switched star, now I’m with a company that has a switch star, but then that works. But that’s done fairly well. Well, any success with that, has been pretty much Europe … you know coaxial switched star. But even the activity there has slowed down. Broadband Network’s push now is in distant learning systems. It’s in AM video, multichannel AM video, and having some success to the system in Indianapolis for the school system … million plus, it would be a lot of add on to that.
TAYLOR: These are broadband distribution systems?
PALMER: Fiber and multichannel, but analog. And we are working on a switch for that kind of system right now. We expect to have that in a few months.
TAYLOR: This will be an optical switch?
TAYLOR: We tried to open a design group, independent like Terry Hulseburg down in Washington. Hired a guy who was beginning to do fairly well. He was innovative, beginning to move into the CAD area. Got us into, maybe, the wrong kind of material, equipment. But he then, while we were still in a losing position, raised his salary and the salary of the people who were working with him without telling us about it. Wholly-owned subsidiary that we were putting notes in to support … He went pretty fast. I was sorry because I had gotten to know him personally fairly well and LaVerne and his wife were very cordial and did a lot of things together. It was sad but on a much smaller scale it’s the same kind of thing.
PALMER: Here’s an extra copy of some of the … when we went public with … [Pause in conversation while organizing papers. The following are comments made while going through papers that will be donated to the Center.]
TAYLOR: That’s quite a plan.
PALMER: I designed all of the control circuits for that place … the generators, the breakers … the young pipsqueak at General Electric. This is a paper I published in the General Electric Review in 1949 on the coordination of protective devices.
TAYLOR: That’s J.R. Palmer in his younger days.
PALMER: Right. Here’s a GE patent I got. I got three patents at GE.
TAYLOR: Did you ever get any patents with C-COR?
TAYLOR: I guess C-COR has some patents, though, from other people?
PALMER: Right. Here’s letters to our … here was warranty costs as a percent of total sales in ’73 and ’76.
TAYLOR: Generally less than 1 percent.
PALMER: Yes, ’76 is right around that.
TAYLOR: A quarter percent? What do you figure that the MTBF was that you quoted a figure earlier?
PALMER: Of these, 200,000 hours! It’s obvious curves and space and sales … this is a set of my commentary letters down through the years. You know, one thing that I am quite proud of in these commentary letters is that I, early on, got the word of the Harrisburg effect … the interference of 118.25 MHz. I got a tape of the speech the guy was giving around to the FAA on … Here’s the letter I wrote long before the “shit hit the fan.” “You thought you had a thirty channel system … don’t run for your technical type, do this exercise yourself!”
TAYLOR: This really happened long before this, because I was a chairman of an IEEE committee and we named Bob Powers as our sub-committee chairman to deal with this issue. Sid Lines came to the meeting and warned us that FAA is pushing us … this was like 1970. That the FAA is pushing very hard to really tell cable that they can’t use any of those frequencies. This is what that letter is saying. I think Garth Kanen was the guy from the FAA.
PALMER: That’s right. But this letter was written shortly after Garth Kanen went around with this tape, and I have a copy of the tape.
TAYLOR: Okay, I’ve heard about that. I never did hear the tape but he’s …
PALMER: In this, I’d offered to stop by our booth. I’ll let you listen to this tape.
TAYLOR: Well, in this meeting, probably in 1970 or ’71, he said, “You fellows are using 250 watts on your networks.” They said, “What!” “Yes, it’s right in your literature … 250 watts.” I said, “Well, I know of nothing that’s got 250 watts, anywhere, in any cable television network. Show me the advertisement.” Never showed me, of course. He quit saying it, but that was the kind of reasoning this guy had … he was awful. And Harrisburg, of course, just proved that all of his …
PALMER: Well, Harrisburg was what he was … okay, with that background I see he was just waiting for Harrisburg.
TAYLOR: That’s exactly right. He was waiting for Harrisburg.
PALMER: Harrisburg was a … really didn’t prove the …
TAYLOR: Harrisburg was asking for it in some ways.
PALMER: Yes, it was a real bastard situation.
TAYLOR: It sure was. I am going to change this over …
End of Tape 2, Side A
Start of Tape 2, Side B
PALMER: There’s 118.25
TAYLOR: It would have all been the same source, and wasn’t synchronized.
PALMER: It wouldn’t have nearly been the problem.
TAYLOR: But Harrisburg … Jerry Looby who was with us for several years had been with Jerrold when they built the first Harrisburg system and it was just loaded with pressure taps. One of the funny things after the Harrisburg incident, by this time, Sammons had the system, and Hank Cicioni was in the meeting that I was in–an engineering committee meeting. We talked about pressure taps. And he’s got a lot of pressure taps, all right, but the pressure taps are not leaking. He said, “I can prove that they are not leaking.” Everybody in the room looked at him. He didn’t convince anybody, but he still maintained that his pressure taps were not leaking.
PALMER: I guess the very nature of a pressure tap, leak or no, was going to set up a standing mismatch, or standing waves.
TAYLOR: It is a mismatch. It is inherently a mismatch, yes.
PALMER: It was inherently on the radio. Well, let’s go get something to eat.
TAYLOR: All right.
PALMER: Here is a call on ATS-101 audio video system. Let’s take that with us and look at it. Here is a surge protection module.
TAYLOR: Milford Richey was at Collins for a while. Would you deal with him at all in this?
PALMER: No. This is ’73, surge protection module. That might have been earlier than that, but at least this is … okay.
(Break for lunch)
TAYLOR: We are back from a delightful lunch at the country club which I enjoyed very much. Jim, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to probe the early history of C-COR and Jim Palmer, as well. We will be transcribing this, and after the transcription I will edit, and make any corrections that I notice. I will then send it to you for editing, additions, deletions … anything that you want to do with it before it becomes finalized.
If I should find some things I haven’t thought of here while we were talking, I have a little device that I can hook into the telephone and record by phone. So, I may give you a call and ask a question or two, and we’ll finish it up that way.
TAYLOR: Thank you again, Jim. I appreciate very much your sitting for this interview.
PALMER: My pleasure. You know, this may be an easy way for me to get some history recorded that I might not really want to or be moved to do without this process.