Interview Date: Tuesday March 22, 1994
Interview Location: Phoenix, AZ
Interviewer: Archer Taylor
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: We are recording an interview with Milford Richey. To make sure the transcriber gets it correct, it is Richey. We are recording in his office in Phoenix on the 22nd of March, a beautiful day outside in Arizona as you would expect. Milford, I am going to start by asking you to tell us something about your early life, your childhood, your parents, and where you went to school, and so on and so forth.
RICHEY: I was born in a little town called St. Johns, Arizona in eastern Arizona, up in the mountains. I had a rather unique situation in that I am not only a native of Arizona but both my parents were born in Arizona. My grandfather drove an ox team in the state of Arizona many years ago. In the small town of St. Johns, we were educated and lived. I didn’t realize it until many years later when somebody told me that I was poor. I didn’t know how poor I was, but during The Depression, we milked cows and raised chickens and sold eggs and cream to get money, but it was a very happy time in my life and I really appreciate my parents and all they did for me.
TAYLOR: Are your parents still living?
RICHEY: No, they’re both dead.
RICHEY: I graduated from high school in St. Johns. I went into the military. A friend of mine said, “You know, I’ve got to go take this test to get into the navy.” And he said, “I don’t want to do it alone. Come take it with me.” So I went down and took it. It was the EDDY test and they accepted us and then we went to a navy electronics school for a year and I had the privilege of graduating #1 in the class. From there I went to ASU — and this was before they had their accredited engineering department — but I graduated from their engineering area before it was a bachelor of science in electronics. I had just graduated from ASU and I went to work. While I was attending ASU, I was working nights at an AM radio station transmitter called KOOL. While I was there…
TAYLOR: This was while you were in school?
RICHEY: Yes, while I was in school, still a student. While I was there… The owners… Let me tell this story. In Phoenix, there was first channel 5 KPHO and there was NBC, channel 12 — which actually was Mesa — and they got their two licenses first. And then there were 2 radio stations, KOOL and KOY, — very strong local radio stations — fighting over channel 10. They finally got together and decided they would jointly own the venture.
TAYLOR: I recall that.
RICHEY: They built the station and I was fortunate enough to be chosen to go and build the transmitter. Another man and I, an engineer from Dumont, equipment, we built the transmitter up on South Mountain.
TAYLOR: Start from scratch? Built the components and everything?
RICHEY: Yes, from scratch. We had a lot of things from Dumont but we did a lot of physical work. It was interesting. About a year later I was chief engineer of channel 0 and the interesting thing to me was that of the department I ran, I was the youngest of them all.
TAYLOR: How old were you? What year was this.
RICHEY: This was about 1954 and I was born in 1928 so that would make me about 26…?
TAYLOR: Yeah, sounds like it.
RICHEY: So, I was there for a few years and the general manager was wrong and I told him he was wrong in a loud voice in the wrong place and I got fired. He was right, he was right to fire me. And not long after, a man named Bruce Merrill hired me. He was doing some microwave work and I had enough microwave experience at the TV station to… I had more experience than most people in microwave at that time. And so I started working with him with microwave.
TAYLOR: Was that about 1956?
RICHEY: It was actually 1957.
TAYLOR: 1957. And Earl Hickman had left… 1’ve got that here somewhere, but it was about the time that Earl went to Kaiser…
RICHEY: Earl was there for about a year while I was there.
TAYLOR: He was.
RICHEY: Yes. And during that year when we developed the first so called AmecoTran, which was the first modulator for cable television that used the 4.5 MHz unit carrier sound system.
TAYLOR: Yes, he’s described that in his interview.
RICHEY: Yeah, that was great fun. But I spent most of my early time there working with microwave systems because we were using common carrier frequencies at that time to disperse TV pictures around primarily the state of Arizona and part of New Mexico. The equipment in those days was not worth much, the microwave equipment wasn’t.
TAYLOR: This was not ATR at that time.
RICHEY: It was… No at that time the equipment was in Antennavision’s name. But soon after, it was made to American Television Relay, which was the ATR. OK. I guess I can go ahead with that particular story. We started working in the Imperial Valley to develop those systems and one of the problems was pictures. So we needed the Los Angeles independents to make it work. So I engineered a microwave system to go from… We started at Toro Peak and because of propagation problems we moved it on west to… near the marine base. And… But at the time we were having problems with modulating/remodulating microwave systems because of the deterioration of quality. And I had been working with some people who were talking about IF heterodyne. This was about the time that AT&T was developing their system for long haul using the same type of modulation. So I went to Collins Radio in Dallas and asked them if they could help us. And they manufactured an IF heterodyne system for long-haul equipment for video. And it turned out to be fantastic because we went from near Palm Springs through Imperial Valley, Yuma, Phoenix, Globe, Safford, Silver City into New Mexico, into El Paso, up through Albuquerque and into Southern Colorado. It was quite an extensive microwave system. The equipment is still there today. Bruce Merrill later sold that system to Bob Magness’ microwave group called Western Microwave, and they then sold to MCI. So MCI has the routes now and they’ve expanded it through other things… But they’re still hauling some video. But that was an interesting part, I enjoyed it. Now, back to the realities of cable TV. That was a minor, not a minor, a side part because in reality that took the place of the satellite programming that we have today. There were a lot of people interested in it and several cable systems were built successfully because of it.
TAYLOR: Over what period of time was that system built up?
RICHEY: That system took several years to build. We finally finished it in about 1967. I shouldn’t say we finished it. Most of it was finished about that time because it was expanded beyond that after that. And many other routes were added later. I was with Bruce up through 1967. It was interesting…After I joined Bruce at Ameco, which originally was Antennavision — that was the cable operations company — and the manufacturing was called Antennavision Manufacturing and Engineering Co. and the letters spelled AMECO. We had been there a short time and Earl Hickman left and so I was the remaining engineer at the time. And so at that particular time, we were manufacturing a low band, channel 2 through 6, tube type amplifier, and that was all.
TAYLOR: And that was broadband?
RICHEY: That was broadband. We originally had some strip amps, had 2, 4, and 6 strip amps which we made. Earl designed the amplifier and did an excellent job with that one.
TAYLOR: The broadband?
RICHEY: The broadband, lowband amplifier. It was a good unit. But we were a little behind the time because the SKI distributed amplifier was doing the broadband 12 channels and it was an excellent amplifier, a beautiful design. So we needed to get into broadband frequency. So, Bruce Merrill used to come back quite often when everybody else had left and I’d be back at my desk and he’d come back and sit and say, “What’s happening?” And we’d discuss things. Bruce was a good help in that regard. He’s a wise man. So we were sitting there one day and I said, “You know, it looks to me like we’ve got two choices. We either follow SKL’s lead to make a distributed amplifier. Or, we could deal with these new things called transistors.” But I hastened to tell him that I knew nothing about transistors, because they had come long after I got out of school. And after discussing it, we decided that well, following with a look alike wouldn’t be very helpful, and if we could, we ought to try the transistors. Because a couple of people had tried the transistors and they weren’t very successful. So we had a very heavy advantage in that regard because Motorola Semiconductor Division was just getting going here in Phoenix. So we got some transistors. These were the Mesa series that Motorola was very proud of and had lots of high frequency capability — they thought. But it was far superior to anything that had been developed before. But its ft was 50 MHz. The highest useful gain was 30 MHz. And so we got some of those transistors and started working with them. And we developed a system called emitter tuning, which had never been done before. With emitter tuning, we could complement transistors that had any gain at any high frequency. And we found out that some of these Motorola devices that supposedly could not have any gain above 50 MHz, had gain up as high as 300 MHz, and quite a bit of it, but not all of them. And so I contacted Motorola and said, “You know, you’ve got some devices here that have got some pretty good high frequency stuff and they couldn’t believe it. They said, “Those aren’t capable of that.” And so we brought them over to our operation there on Osborn Road and showed them. They just couldn’t believe it. So, they said, “Well, let’s see what we can do to make these things work.” So I showed them that we had set up a test bench, just to test transistors. And I put in a square wave modulation on all channels except one of the 12 channels. And I had a lady who would plug the transistors in. She had a monitor there, and we had the levels all set. If she could see intermode, it was a bad transistor. If she could see no intermode, it was a good one. It was that simple, that simple a test. It was a go/no-go test. And so Motorola said, “Well, bring that over and set one up in our place. We’ll test them and send you the good ones.” So we drew a diagram of how to do it and told them the levels. About two weeks later they said, “Come over and help us.” So we went over and they had really messed it up. The guy finally said, “Look, let’s do it this easy way.” Every week they had a barrel — about a 30 gallon barrel — full of transistors that came off their Mesa line. We were interested in two different transistors: one was a low powered transistor, and one was a stud-mounted transistor. And they said, “OK.” Then they would send us a barrel of each about once a week. We would put them through our test bench over there and plug them in. The bad ones, we would put back in another barrel. The good ones we kept in another one and sent those back…
TAYLOR: Do you remember what kind of yield you were getting?
RICHEY: That’s a good story because the yield some days would be 1% maybe 2 % and some days it would be 10-15 percent. So I went back to Motorola and said, “This batch is good. Whatever you are doing on this particular batch is right.” And then I’d say, “This batch over here was horrible. Now tell me what’s the difference between them.” And they looked and looked and looked and finally the guy — I wish I could remember his name — came to me and said, “You know, we cannot determine what the difference is between those two batches. All I can think of is some dumb thing like, maybe the night guy urinates in the wrong place.” But we finally found out later what it was. When they cut the chips up, if their saw was sharp, the yield was practically none. But when the saw was dull, and left a little serrated edge on the edge of the semiconductor, it had fantastic high frequency capabilities. And the duller the saw, the greater the high frequency. Texas instruments… I think we told them about it — I don’t remember how they got it. But they then took that and designed it into their transistors. And that was the beginning, and then everybody got transistors and the whole market took off in the development of transistor devices, because they all had good high frequency response and good capability. But that’s the story of the development of transistors for the cable industry.
TAYLOR: Very interesting. Can we put some dates in here. This was before you left, of course. Maybe the early 60’s.
RICHEY: This was actually ’59, 1958-59. Because by 1960 we had developed several complete lines of transistorized equipment and I ended up with all the responsibilities of AMECO except for the sales force and collecting the money. We had 7 buildings going at that time and those that were doing production, we were running three shifts 24 hours a day. It was interesting.
TAYLOR: Let me ask you a question here about the.. .see I was up in Montana until about ’65, and it was sometime either just after I left or just before, that Irving Kahn had his fiasco in Great Falls.
RICHEY: That’s another story that needs to be added into this system, because we found the transistors and we knew we could get gain but I knew nothing about transistor circuitry and none of my people that worked for me knew anything about transistor circuitry. So I went to Bruce and said, “I’ve got to have somebody who knows something about transistors.” So we discussed it, and Bruce had a friend who was some kind of a wheel over at Cal Tech. So we contacted Cal Tech and said, “We need your best man who has the greatest knowledge of transistorized circuits and we want to hire him.” And so, he was in their graduate program. But we hired him and he came over and designed us an amplifier, a broadband cable TV amplifier, for…
TAYLOR: Do you remember his name?
RICHEY: You know I just can’t remember his name. I’ve been trying for weeks now to remember that guy’s name.
TAYLOR: And he was just briefly with AMECO then?
RICHEY: He was with AMECO for about 6 months. During that time he designed a line amplifier. It had ten stages of gain. We powered it by DC power so we had big DC power supplies and would regulate the voltage in each amplifier. And so Irving Kahn was kind enough to ask us to try it up in Great Falls. So we took about 10 amplifiers up there — trunk amplifiers primarily — and took them up. We had their trunk system and we took it down – not the trunk, just the active devices — and replaced them with the transistorized equipment. And it was so cold up in Great Falls. The high temperature, while were there that week putting this equipment in, got up to 32 degrees. There was a thermometer on the bank building there. It got up to 32 degrees at midnight one night — one of those Chinook winds had come through — oh it was gorgeous. Because before that… We had no test equipment that didn’t require AC powering. Our signal meters had to have AC power, so we had a little Kohler putt-putt, and it ran all the time on the back of the truck. The only way to get our hands warm was to go over… You didn’t just hover around it, you grabbed hold of the muffler to get them warm. The muffler wasn’t very warm. But anyway, that was interesting. Well, we put the amplifiers in and got about a 10 amplifier cascade. And when we got down to the office. And we had something there… We had two things. We had noise and hum. But we didn’t have hardly any pictures. And so, we pulled them [the amplifiers] all out, put the other equipment back in. We called Irving Kahn and told him it was a failure. So I took the equipment and went back to Phoenix and the next morning Bruce came in and said, well, didn’t go very well, did it? I said, “No, but we learned a lot.’ and he said, “Irving Kahn thinks so too.” Because he had called Bruce that morning and said, “Failure is just the beginning, so fix it and come back.” And I had always appreciated Irving Kahn for that.
TAYLOR: Irving was an interesting guy.
RICHEY: Yes. He had a lot of foresight.
TAYLOR: Yes he did.
RICHEY: A lot of people, I don’t think, have given him adequate appreciation. But the two things we learned is that our engineer — and I sure wish I could think of his name from Cal Tech — had forgotten the old thing that if the gain of the stage isn’t more than the noise figure of the preceding one, all you’re amplifying is noise in each stage. You’ve got to have 20dB in there. Anyway, we realized immediately what our problems were. That was the problem with the amplifier. We had too many stages and not enough gain and he had not realized how much we knew about emitter tuning and he had not accepted that. He was too new for it. But we knew it worked, so I let him go. But the one thing he did is that he taught me and my staff about transistors. And so then we started designing and Floyd Stewart was a genius with these devices and he came up with a two-stage design that had 20dB gain out of two transistors.
TAYLOR: Now, was Floyd Stewart a member of your staff?
RICHEY: He was a member of our staff, one of our technicians at the time.
TAYLOR: But he had not had previous transistor training.
RICHEY: He had no technical training when he started with us.
TAYLOR: No technical.
RICHEY: No, but he was a very good man and good, and he thought well. He was a very good man. And Ray Stouffer was in the middle of this too. He and Ray and I were the nucleus of our engineering department at that time.
TAYLOR: Yeah, I remember Ray from…
RICHEY: And, Ray would give Floyd the stability of knowledge and background and history and anyway, it was a good combination. I remember we went to the California show in Palm Springs. It was the beginning of the Western Show. And at that Western Show we had this little transistor amplifier. And because we were in a hurry, we had mounted it in a tap box — a blister can tap box — and it was made to mount directly on a pole. And in order to keep the linemen from using it as his place to stand, we had a decal on the top that said “NO-STEP”. And consequently, the amplifier became known as the “NO-STEP AMPLIFIER”. But that was the beginning of this, and it was very accepted and it did a good a job — had good intermode, very surprising, a marvelous amplifier.
TAYLOR: Do you remember what the year of the test in Great Falls was?
RICHEY: It had to be the winter of ’59 and ’60, I believe. I wish I had kept a diary but I didn’t.
RICHEY: It was either ’59 or ’60, because we developed a whole series…We were in Santa Barbara in 1961 with our new series of equipment.
TAYLOR: The first time that Irving turned up at the NCTA was I think in Miami in 1960.
RICHEY: OK, I’m not positive, but I could be off two years. But I do remember that we were in Santa Barbara in 1961 with a full new series of trunk equipment and distribution equipment. Because Harry Butcher was the man in Santa Barbara who wanted the solid state equipment design put into his system there in Santa Barbara. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So, we took the “No-Step” and then from that… About that time a young man named Don Nelson joined us. Don was very good with circuitry also. He was the one that was primarily responsible for the interstage gain with the diodes that would give us variable gain to be able to give us AGC control. Don was one of the early people who later on, at Scientific Atlanta, took advantage of it and used the reverse feedback to cancel out your unwanted devices. Don Nelson built an amplifier about that time at AMECO.
TAYLOR: The feed forward design?
RICHEY: Yes, the feed forward design. But the problem at that time was that we could not find transistors constant enough to be able to design something to be able to plug everything into. Every unit had to be special selected and then tuned for it. He was just ahead of his time. It was a beautiful circuit and boy did it have gain. It was marvelous. We had fun in those days. We worked hard. I can remember at AMECO, we used to have picnics for employees. We had an annual picnic and we would get one of the parks here in the valley and set it aside. Then we would invite all the employees out and have a big lunch and play a softball game and got everybody involved.
TAYLOR: How many employees did you have at that time?
RICHEY: In the early times, we probably had about 20-25 total, which included production and everything, but later on we had about 200-300 when we were running the shifts.
TAYLOR: I’m sure you knew Paul Merrill, Bruce’s older brother. Earl was certainly very fond of Paul and Paul and Earl were really the beginning of the thing apparently.
RICHEY: Yes, and as a matter of fact, it was a very important time in the history of AMECO because Paul, of the seven owners, was the leader. And about the time we started development of the modulator, Paul came in — they had a Board of Directors meeting — and he said, “I’m tired of taking all the profit out of the cable operations and putting it into this dumb thing called AMECO.” He said, “I’m tired of it, and I’ve got the four votes to shut down AMECO.” And so when I left work that day, the word was that the Board was going to vote that night.
TAYLOR: When was this?
RICHEY: This was in ’57, late ’57, early ’58.
TAYLOR: That was after you had come/
RICHEY: Just after I had been there, yes. Earl was still there. Earl was one of the members of the Board of Directors. He was an owner.
TAYLOR: OK. Earl indicated that the reason he went to Kaiser was that he felt they didn’t have enough money to pay his salary and so he said he would give them a year’s notice and help the guy who came in, which happened to be you.
RICHEY: Well, I think there’s a little more to the story than that. Earl was with Paul on the vote. So I was surprised the next morning when I came to work and they said, “Work is normal.” Apparently, what happened the previous night was that Bruce had bought his brother out, and so he then had the four votes. I don’t know, Earl may have felt a problem being…
TAYLOR: Bruce was one of the seven…
RICHEY: Bruce was one of the seven owners.
TAYLOR: At the very first…
RICHEY: At the very first and Bruce had two brothers, I think they were Hall brothers, I’m not sure of these names, who were
TAYLOR: Earl is… But I don’t know them either.
RICHEY: And then there was Bruce and a guy from Globe… Anyway, Bruce changed the numbers on the Board and soon after that he bought all the rest of them out so he was the sole owner of AMECO.
TAYLOR: And that was when Earl decided to leave.
RICHEY: Earl left, yes. I have no idea exactly why Earl left, but it was during the period of change. Because of that we went forward. I’ve got things out of chronological order here. I hope you can…
TAYLOR: Did you know of any antagonism between Earl and Bruce?
RICHEY: Not that I’m aware of. They were good, friendly competitors, in a sense.
TAYLOR: You mean with Kaiser, when Kaiser got into the Kaiser/Cox.
RICHEY: We, as a matter of fact, we talked together quite often during that time. They went a different way than we did, later on. But it was good. About that time, well after we got the solid state equipment built, we were… Do you want me to tell the other stories that go along with this?
TAYLOR: Sure, by all means.
RICHEY: OK. Bruce had bid on the… They were about to start to build Glen Canyon dam. And in that period of time, when they started that, there was a radio station in Flagstaff — an AM radio station, it was daytime only, and it was low power. And in Page, you could just barely get a noisy signal during the day. At night there was nothing. With a TV antenna, you might get a little skip once in a while, but there was no entertainment in Page and it’s at least a 3-hour drive to Flagstaff.
TAYLOR: Is this a radio station or a television?
RICHEY: No, this is a radio station. And so entertainment was a problem in Page. So the Bureau of Reclamation was pushing to get somebody interested in cable TV, and Bruce was interested in it. And there was another — I’m not sure who it was — there was another group that was interested also, and we had a time frame to get the system built and get it in operation. We had 3 weeks. During that 3 week time period, I had to build a microwave system from Hutch Mountain with two repeaters on the Navaho Indian Reservation that were out in the middle of nowhere. One was on the top of a ridge in the middle of a sand dune area and another was on top of a mountain that looked like a battle ship and up on the cliffs. I had to build a microwave system in 3 weeks. I think we had 3 or 4 four-wheel drive pickups and we took them up there and started working. We took little pre-fab buildings out and took a bunch of ties we got and laid them down. Then we’d take plywood sheets and lay them on top of the ties and then we built a pre-fab metal building over that. Then we had to build two buildings, one for the power plant and one for the equipment. Then we would set up antennas. We just drilled holes in the rock and put the pipe in and poured liquid sulfur around to seal them and brace them in there and put them up. I had a crew of people and we were living at Cedar Ridge.–.1’ll think of the name — on the Indian Reservation up there — the little building out behind the trading post. There was one big room and one little room and we had a guy by the name of Alex Brauner who was helping us. Alex lost his sense of smell, he couldn’t smell at all but he was very good with mechanical things. He was the guy who put up our metal things and he was a good welder and everything and so he was good and handy to have around. He wore big old boots laced up almost to his knee. We would all go back there and be just fatigued. We had a bunch of bunk beds in this big room and Alex would take off his boots. And my gosh! It was like somebody brought a skunk in! It was horrible. And I said, “Alex, don’t you do something about those shoes? At least set the shoes outside!” So the first night, we set his boots outside. The second night we moved him outside. But Alex was quite a guy and one of the things that was interesting about that… But, another thing about that is that when we’d drive with those pickups, we had a lot of trouble with getting them stuck in the sand. And so when I got up there, I went over to the pickup and let the tire pressure down to about 15 pounds in all the tires, and we just drove right through the sand. Well the problem is that we couldn’t drive them on the highway like that. We had the equipment and we had arranged to get some Motorola microwave equipment and we got it up there and then we started hauling it to these sites primarily on the Indian reservations to get them going. And I remember Bud Winnery said one day, “You know, my pants got a hole in them. I’ve got to go home and get me some new pants.” I said, “Bud, you don’t have any holes in the seat of your pants.” He said, “It’s not the seat of the pants. It’s up above. It’s right below the belt. We sit there and bounce on these pickups all day and it wears the back of my pants off.” So we had some unique things happen there. But we got those things built. Then we had to have propane. So we contracted a guy in Flagstaff and he agreed to take them up there. But he couldn’t get that truck up that hill. So on the Preston-Mesa side, we rented a Kat and pushed one vehicle and towed the other. One vehicle had the tanks and the other was full of propane and we got them up to the top. But you know, for some reason he refused to fill those tanks again!
TAYLOR: Laughing. I wonder why?
RICHEY: I wonder why. Of course, we found out later on that we would just time it so that after a rain — whenever it rained up in that country – we’d call that guy and he’d run out with a truck and drive right to the site, because the sand was wet. But then on Jacks Peak, we built the power station down on the flat level ground. And we took this same Kat with a flat bed trailer, and it was the only thing we could drive to the top of the mountain with. And we drove up the mountain with all the equipment and built it up there and turned it on. Then we got to Page — and I wish I could remember the man from the Bureau of Reclamation. I said, “Where are we going to build this?” He took me out to the south side of Page and he drew a line in the sand and said, “See that line right there, that’s the boundary of the Bureau of Reclamation. On the south side of that boundary is the Indian reservation on the north side of it is the Bureau of Reclamation land.” And he had two great big timbers, about 12″ square by 15′ long, and he said, “You put your building on top of those skids.” So we built a building on top of those skids. Then I said, “Why, why don’t we just build a permanent building?” “Because,” he said, “Today the injunction is against me, so we will build it on the Indian reservation. Tomorrow, the injunction will be on the Indian reservation, so we’ll just slide it over to other side of the line.” So we built the building there, and started turning equipment on. I remember it was one Saturday, late afternoon, and we were starting to get pictures. We had aligned all the paths and had guys working on all three sites. And we had them all lined up with the pictures coming through, and we got one channel on. There were people all over us. They were coming in looking through the door and looking at pictures over our shoulders. And I finally said, “Do you have a TV set?” He said, “Sure.” I said, “Well you go get it and sit it outside and I’ll run a line out there, and hook it up to that TV set.” So I did it, and there were people watching that TV set out there. We got the second channel hooked up. Another guy said, “I’ll go get mine!” So the first thing you know is, we had 2 or 3 TV sets sitting outside, all on different channels and people sitting around them. Then it started to rain. They didn’t take their TV sets and go home. They got in their cars and watched through the windows. They were that hungry for television.
TAYLOR: Yeah, I know. We had some similar experiences in Montana.
RICHEY: So, we got the system built and we got it built a day early. We had 21 days and we built it in 20 days and that was quite a feat. In the meantime, we had a crew stringing cable, actually in town, but we didn’t have to have much cable strung up to qualify. But we had it on and it worked. We finally built it on down across the trailer park. It was a huge trailer park. APS had built poles and the trailers then were parked underneath the pole line, so that the power line ran directly across the top of the trailers, and then they’d go up and drop a line down to power each trailer. So we built our cable system right underneath the power line. And so our cable was running right across the tops of the trailers. At that time we were using flat braid cable — that was the big thing. So it wasn’t long till those construction people found out that they could take their TV antenna… and actually they got some pictures with just the regular TV antenna up on top the trailers. But they found out they got real good pictures when they stuck it up right underneath our cable. The next thing you know, we don’t have anybody wanting TV. It was all free. So I had a problem. I had been using some 50-ohm aluminum cable, made by Rome Cable in New York. I’d been using some two-way stuff, 50 ohms. So I went back to Rome and talked to Jack Woods and said, “I need some 75-ohm cable. I need – I’ve forgotten the exact amount – about 2000-3 000 feet of it. Can you make me some 75-ohm cable?” He said, “Sure, I can make it for you.” So he made us several reels of it and we took it to Page. Now, we had a problem, I had aluminum cable, but I had no connectors. Now at that time Jim, our purchasing agent… on weekends he drove race-cars. He had a friend who was a butcher, who liked to tinker in his garage. And we needed connectors to go on these ½-inch aluminum cables we had. So Jim said, “Hey, automotive copper connectors will fit the outside of that, so we can just put a swedge fit on those with a little compression ring. So I said, “Fine, that’s great. Now what are we going to do for the center conductor?” Jim said, “Well, I got a good idea.” Teflon was just new at that time, but you could machine Teflon, one of the first products you could machine. So, he said, “I have a friend that has a lathe.” So he went with the friend and they took a small tube, a copper tube, just barely bigger than the size of the center conductor and they split it on both ends. Then they drilled the hole through center of the piece of Teflon and pushed it through. Then they put the Teflon in the lathe and machined it down till it was just a bit bigger than that brass 1/2 inch fitting. Then they took it over to a drill press, and with the drill press, forced it into there, and we had our connector. So, that guy’s name, who was the butcher in his garage, was named Earl Gilbert. Hence, the beginning of Gilbert Connectors.
TAYLOR: Oh, I’ll be darned.
RICHEY: Now, originally the Gilbert Connectors, he was supposed to be working for
End of TAPE 1, SIDE A
START TAPE 1, SIDE B
TAYLOR: OK, this is side B of Tape 1. We ran out in the middle of a talk about connectors. I was going to ask, early on, AMECO used PL259 connectors, which is a terrible connector, then Earl or somebody modified that to make up the AMECO connector. Did that happen on your watch, or was that earlier or later?
RICHEY: No, that was during my time. We realized that we had a problem with match of connectors. About that time, we found that — 1 don’t remember which — one of the test equipment manufacture had built a TDR unit at high enough frequency that we could measure that small an area. So we bought one so that we could look at the connectors. Because we knew we had a problem. So with that piece of test equipment, we were able to change the design of those connectors to make it a 75- ohm device, because it was actually a 50-ohm device.
TAYLOR: Now, was that starting from Gilbert’s idea, or from the PL259.
RICHEY: Well, we did it at AMECO, but Earl used it. I don’t want to point numbers or places…It was a joint problem and it worked. Nobody was taking something from anybody else. It was fine.
TAYLOR: Earl Gilbert was not an employee at AMECO?
RICHEY: No. He was not.
TAYLOR: He was somebody that helped you out.
RICHEY: Apparently, as it worked out, he turned out to be a subcontractor. OK.
TAYLOR: But, when he first put that first connector together, what was his business then?
RICHEY: He was a butcher.
TAYLOR: A butcher.
Milord: Yes, and he liked to tinker in his garage and hence, he and Jim, our purchasing agent had become friends and he made all the special things for Jim’s race cars in his garage.
TAYLOR: Jim, who was that?
RICHEY: Oh, you shouldn’t ask so fast.
TAYLOR: Earl had talked about a fellow who was killed in a race-car, and I know I can’t find it quickly…
RICHEY: Yes that’s the man. I can’t think of his name. He had taken his transmission out and physically put it in backwards, so he could have more power, and during the race he forgot it was in backwards. And when he shifted to 3rd, he was actually down-shifting instead of up-shifting. The transmission locked up and he spun, and it killed him. It was a sad thing. He was a brilliant young man.
TAYLOR: I see a name Wilson here. Could that have been him…
TAYLOR: Oh, that’s Roger Wilson. I know Roger.
RICHEY: Roger Wilson…came later. There were a lot of people that came later that helped and I’m terrible with names and the older I get the worse I am.
TAYLOR: Well that’s true for all of us I think. I guess it’s part of the…
RICHEY: We had lots of good help. We had Rheinfelder who contributed in this era. Ed Harmon, Wilson…and I’m forgetting names. I shouldn’t start…
TAYLOR: Was this on your watch… when you were there?
RICHEY: Oh yes.
TAYLOR: Rheinfelder came over from Motorola, right.
RICHEY: Yes. Now I’m going to tell you a story about Rheinfelder and I think you might want to cut this out. OK.
TAYLOR: Well, I’ll stop it if you want me to.
RICHEY: Maybe, you better stop it.
TAYLOR: This is about Rheinfelder’s book?
RICHEY: No, I don’t want to talk about Rheinfelder’s book. This is before that. The cable TV industry is getting real hot and, I can’t remember the publishing company, but they sent a man to see me. Well, they interviewed me and said, “We’re going to write a book.” And he says, “You are going to be the author and I am going to be the ghost-writer.” He had it all pretty well done, but it needed to be reviewed and I was so busy I didn’t have time to review it. And so the book was never published. But that would have been a good book because at that time we were sitting on a lot of stuff and I wouldn’t let those non-truths get out because Rheinfelder… see I left before Rheinfelder….no just about…no I think Rheinfelder published that just after I left. I’m not sure.
TAYLOR: Well, see the Charleston thing was in 1968 I believe, ’67-’68, and Earl was there at that time.
RICHEY: Yeah, I left in ’67. Let me go over one other thing. One of the things that we knew is that cable was sensitive to temperature and we knew it was a problem. And we had a theoretical thing with what cable did. And so we knew we had to design amplifiers that compensated for the cable. So I built… took the back end of our lab and insulated it and put a big air conditioning unit in it, and a big heating unit, then put dual windows in it so we could see it and built enough cable in there to run a 32 amplifier cascade. And then we’d start cycling this thing and then we had test leads coming out so we could monitor the system. The one problem… and we thought we had the problem solved, because we could run that thing up and down, cycle it back and forth in a day’s time. And, hey, our equipment was working beautifully for it. But the one thing we didn’t have is a temperature sensor. Because the cable was on reels and I could not sense the temperature of the cable at the center of the inner reels. So consequently, our information was in error because the center never changed temperature very much. Finally, over a long, long period of time, when we would sit in there hot for a week, or cold for week, then we began to see the problems. But at first we had difficulties with our amplifiers and our AGC in the field because of it. Because had designed to what we thought were real conditions. But it turned out they were unreal, because our temperature thing was not getting it cold enough.
TAYLOR: Yeah, we used that chamber when were testing the Charleston equipment… put in a 10 amplifier cascade and ran it through its paces, waited all night for the cool cycle to get it down to temperature. But I worried about just that problem. I worried about how do we know what’s happening in the center conductor… and I made the suggestion that I don’t if anybody every did anything about it, but measure the resistance of the copper…
RICHEY: Which would have told us something about it…
TAYLOR: Which would have told us something about its temperature and I’ve made the suggestion to 2 or 3 other people and nobody ever followed through on it…to my knowledge.
RICHEY: Well, the one mistake we made is instead of putting just one piece of cable on one reel we had at least 3 or 4 pieces of cable on one reel. So we really had lots of cable on a reel and it was not real because the one that was on the outside… because we had it rolled up together here, with another on the side of it, and another on the side of it. But still the inside one probably never got cool or hot. So it was a mistake.
TAYLOR: Cute little story though. I can tell you at that time when we were running though those tests, it was just before Christmas, and Larry Janes was the chief technician — or rather chief engineer — for the Charleston system and he went out to Phoenix with me to go through these chamber tests. We came out one morning about 6 am in the morning, and there was ice on the parking apron. Larry was just absolutely flabbergasted. He said this was the first time he had ever been to Phoenix or to Arizona. He was expecting at Christmas time it would be nice and warm and everything, and here is ice on the paving. He couldn’t believe it.
RICHEY: Yeah, once in a while we get some cold weather here.
TAYLOR: I saw him a few years ago and he was still flabbergasted about that experience.
RICHEY: You know, those were interesting times and I can remember that test equipment was such a terrible problem to us and I tried hard to get some of the test equipment people to work with us. But they just couldn’t understand the problems.
TAYLOR: They didn’t believe we were for real…
RICHEY: That was absolutely true.
TAYLOR: Ken Simons, really his love was test equipment and he went at it and I think he made some pretty good contributions.
RICHEY: He made some very good contributions. He’s a good man. But you know, let me talk about another aspect. About the time that — after the episode in Page where we finally solved the problem. Once we put that aluminum cable up there — hey, everybody hooked back up to cable. So that worked real fine. So about that time, I went back to Rome and visited Jack — I can’t think of his last name…
RICHEY: Jack Woods. I said, “Jack, we need to build a cable manufacturing plant in Phoenix.’ He says, “Phoenix is the right place to put it.” Because one of the problems in making the foam dielectric, at that time, was that the by-product was moisture, and they had to put it in ovens to bake the moisture out. He said, “If we did that in Phoenix we wouldn’t have to bake it, we’d just sit it out in the sun.” And so I said, “Let’s do it.” We put together a package that would make cable. But at the same time, knowing that — that’s a lot of money to put a cable plant in — that the cable business might not be that good. So we actually designed the plant to make housewire cable.
TAYLOR: Oh, really?
RICHEY: And we would make aluminum cable as a byproduct. If the aluminum cable industry made it, fine, we would make aluminum cable.
TAYLOR: Jack brought Sid Mills in with him as I recall.
RICHEY: Absolutely. Sid worked with him in Rome and he brought him to Phoenix to run the plant. Then Sid went from there to Kaiser and made their cable operation here in town.
TAYLOR: Then Systems Wire acquired the plant. Was Sid with that?
RICHEY: I was thinking..
TAYLOR: I know Jack Woods was.
RICHEY: I can’t remember the exact correlation with how they went, but Jack broke off with Bruce and then he got his own plant in East Phoenix near the river bed.
TAYLOR: There was one interesting thing about the Ameco Cable plant that I pursued a bit, but I could never get an answer to it. I had noticed that Rome Cable…every time they put out a data sheet, there would be a different attenuation for the 3/4 inch size from what others had. The 1/2 inch and the 412 tracked very closely, but the 3/4 size… I don’t know if it was better or worse, but it was a different attenuation from what Times and Superior were doing. But when I was out here to visit the plant in Phoenix, your plant, Ameco’s plant, I talked to Jack about that. And we couldn’t come to any conclusion and he didn’t have any conclusion. But the same thing happened with the Ameco cable, it just followed the Rome figures. But of course they were the same people and the same techniques and everything. So I never did determine whether that was a real difference or just some fluke of measurement.
RICHEY: You know what I think it was, in looking back, was that we finally found that in order to make good cable we had to mill the center conductor to make sure it was the same diameter all the way through. And I think that was the problem. It was the copper from the center conductor was not maintaining the same diameter. And so consequently it was causing problems because once we started milling it…
TAYLOR: That’s saying then that the Rome/Ameco Cable was more nearly correct and the others were off because they weren’t having reliable center conductors.
RICHEY: I think that’s why.
TAYLOR: That’s a good hypothesis anyway.
RICHEY: When we got to the copper clad aluminum, the aluminum was processed before the copper was put on it, so then we had perfect center conductor all around which was a good process. But I’ve been involved in getting things going, the amplifier, cable, microwave. I’ve had a good time.
TAYLOR: That’s great. I started talking to Earl about — I don’t know how the conversation got started — but open wire line was #1 and he mentioned Scottie Gray. Did you know Scottie Gray?
TAYLOR: I guess that’s before your time there. I had…Scottie Gray wanted to hire me one time and I listened to what he was saying and it just sounded like bunkem, and I didn’t want to get mixed up with him. That was the time the Pat Weaver was doing Pay TV in Los Angeles and got blown out of the tub by a referendum. The people didn’t want it. But, I then got to G-line, which is another thing I always thought Earl had a lot to do with. But he says, “No, talk to RICHEY: Richey.”
RICHEY: Yeah, I got that.
TAYLOR: So let’s talk about G-line and open wire line.
RICHEY: OK. Well, the open wire line… There was quite a bit of it that we had in some of the systems. You know the problem with open wire line was just those spacers wore the cable in two, and changed the impedance, and you had noise, and it was a problem. When it was new, it worked pretty good. When it was old, it was terrible. The attenuation always increased, and that’s why. And it should have. So, I can’t really recall how I got started in the G-line but I took general theory, and somebody said, “Well G-line ought to work more like a radiator with a flat surface and a center line going out.” And I said, No, because that’s ridiculous. We got to go… Because the G-line is really an infinite impedance and we’ve got to transform it back to a 75-ohm impedance. And the only way you could do that was some kind of a cone shape device.” So I built the cone shaped feed horn for the G-line…
TAYLOR: Did you have to deal with Hefner, the patent attorney?
RICHEY: Not much, I hid away from that. But there was a problem there.
TAYLOR: He was a tough guy to deal with.
RICHEY: Yeah, but we built G-line and it worked very well. And we used nylon rope to suspend it from the cross arms on the thing, and if you built on its own line…
TAYLOR: …slow bends…
RICHEY: Absolutely… transitions. And it worked very well. One of our most successful lines that we ever built was… During that time there was a big radar base about 5-10 miles west of Winslow. And there was nothing out there. But technicians out there, on their off-time wanted to be able to watch some television. So from Winslow we built a G-line out there. It was perfect condition for G-line. It was away from everything, relatively straight line and that line worked beautifully, for years. And they finally dismantled the radar base, and the line was torn down…
TAYLOR: One of my associates Bruce Hamilton, built a line in Helena, MT from the continental divide into Helena. We found that after it was running for a little while that every launcher on the thing had Yagi antennas pointing into it.
RICHEY: It worked well.
TAYLOR: It worked well.
RICHEY: You know the G-line had a terrible lightning problem. Oh man, it drew lightning like mad because it was long and high impedance and ungrounded. So what I did was put a 6 dB pad on the input and output of every unit and when lightning hit, it would blow the pad. Fine. You go out and throw it away and put another one in, because if you didn’t do that, it would blow out everything.
TAYLOR: A 6 dB fuse.
RICHEY: Yes, that’s what it was, a 6 dB fuse. But I took that same philosophy… We had built a cable system in Show Low, and Pine Top was about 5-10 miles away. And there was a phone line running up there along the road. We decided to try a G-line up there, because it was too long a distance for cable. So we built a G-line up there. I was up there and it wouldn’t work. We didn’t get anything through it and we were sitting there with the test equipment disgusted. There was a barb wire fence relatively, below it but quite some distance from it, and I drop the test lead down and it happened to hit on the fence. Now this was a metal post fence with barb wire attached to it. It was grounded. We had more signal in the top two wires of the barb wire fence than we had on the G-line. The impedance was too great, the field was too large to go on those physical conditions. And then we put in an FM modulated system on those lines and that was the first FM modulated system used for cable TV.
TAYLOR: Now which line was this again?
RICHEY: This was a line between… We put coax in, then, and we ran a line between Show Low and Pine Top in eastern Arizona, up in the mountains, and put FM modulation…
TAYLOR: Earl talked about having developed an FM transmission system. He used Coolidge, someplace.. .1 can’t remember now.
RICHEY: That was the next generation of the equipment, but I used it on there and at first…
TAYLOR: How did you get the FM? How did you generate it?
RICHEY: We made FM modulators at… The first thing we did to test it, we had an old sweep generator that used klystrons. And we just beat the two of them together and modulated one of them. We tuned it to about 70 MHz and that was our modulator. But then we made a varactor modulator at about 50-100 MHz. We had three of them operating in there.
TAYLOR: Was this toward the end of your watch?
RICHEY: Yes, it was toward the end of my watch. And it worked. We first tried using it on drop cabling. We just ran drop cable across and put one on each line and all on the same frequency. And that was a problem because they were all on the same frequency.
TAYLOR: Did you have multichannels.
RICHEY: We ran 3 channels, all FM on the first seven systems. Then we ran one across and it worked beautifully and we had to have some amplifiers and they worked. We didn’t… Everybody said, “Oh they are easy. We’ll just saturate them, make them limiters.” That’s just plain intermode, you can’t have that. It worked, but it didn’t have the channel capacity that we needed to get across. So we put a microwave system in to replace it and built it as a separate headend to solve the situation.
TAYLOR: Did you know Earl Cullum, a broadcast consultant in Dallas.
RICHEY: Yes, that is a name I haven’t heard in while…
TAYLOR: I was telling Earl Hickman about this and he didn’t know it, he knew about Cullum but didn’t know this story. Earl had been Eisenhower’s communications aide preparing for and during the Normandy Invasion. He was a real gentleman and a good solid type engineer. But when the FCC was considering the reallocation in the 50’s, Earl urged them to change from amplitude modulation to frequency modulation because of the interference situation. And he pushed real hard and put a lot of papers in on the subject. But there was no way they could hammer it down to 6 MHz channels and the thing died because of that. They were already — from 1941 — locked in to the 6 MHz and couldn’t do much about it. But it was interesting and Earl had a good idea, and there would have been a lot of differences in our television if we had FM to begin with, it think.
RICHEY: Well, you know the outcome of that is that they used the FM modulators to go on fiber optics and that’s where they came from, that series back down through there.
TAYLOR: Catel was the one that pushed this the most and Earl indicated that he had, I wouldn’t say consulted, but shared ideas with the guy at Catel.
RICHEY: Well, you see, I needed some good modulators and we didn’t have time to manufacture them, so I made a deal with Catel to manufacture our modulators.
TAYLOR: FM modulators?
RICHEY: No, AM modulators.
TAYLOR: I guess they’re pretty well out of business, I think.
RICHEY: I really don’t know. People change and things change. It’s just like I worked for Collins Radio for years. And it was a good episode, I enjoyed that.
TAYLOR: You went to Collins from Ameco?
RICHEY: I went from Ameco right to Collins, yes sir.
TAYLOR: And how long were you at Collins?
RICHEY: I was at Collins 6 years.
TAYLOR: Were you working on microwave?
RICHEY: OK, let me tell you the story. Collins Radio, who had sold me the long haul microwave equipment, saw the market for cable television beginning to bloom, and they had some very sophisticated characteristics and capability in electronic design. And they saw that we in the cable industry were novices, so to speak, compared to them in their capability. So they hired me as a senior development engineer to head up their entry into cable television to design amplifiers and equipment. Unfortunately, the timing was wrong. I arrived…
TAYLOR: They were going to make line equipment.
RICHEY: They were going to make line amplified equipment, a whole series of equipment for cable television. Their chief engineer, Tom __________, it was his idea, and he could never get it off the ground. So, I was in the engineering department, because of the politics, not doing much.
TAYLOR: Was it internal bureaucracy, the problem
RICHEY: It was internal bureaucracy that killed them. At the time Arthur Collins was involved in the computer… And at that time he was, I guess, as much as 5 years ahead of IBM, because he had computers talking to each other from… He had three offices, Cedar Rapids, Dallas, and near Los Angeles. And he had those online, and the computers talking to each other long before IBM even thought about doing it. But that is another story. But he felt that they should go into that aspect of if, the computer part of it, rather than anything else. So the marketing department was trying to sell equipment to the cable TV industry and so Terry Fox, who was head of the marketing department at the time went to Tom ________ and said, let me borrow RICHEY: for a couple of days. So I did and I went to see Bob Magness. Because they were starting to advance their… At that time it was their Western microwave group.
TAYLOR: This was when Bob was still up in Montana.
RICHEY: Yes. Well no, at that time he had just moved to Denver. And so I visited Bob and his chief engineer Larry Romrell. We discussed microwave and I showed him the problems with his way, because he had been buying somebody else’s equipment and so he decided to buy Collins equipment. But because of that, the marketing department said, if you guys aren’t going to use RICHEY:, we want him in marketing. So I took over the department as a marketing manager at Collins. And that marketing group had been grossing less than a million a year. My area of responsibility was what we called specialized microwave applications, because we had other marketing groups that were on specific applications. So I got to work very well with the networks. This was about the time that localized networks were being developed to compete with AT&T for long haul network distribution. I got to know the network people very well. The CBS people were overloaded with executives but they had very talented people. ABC at that time only had 3 wheels. They were a jewel to work with. CBS and ABC were great to work with.
TAYLOR: Let me tell you what…
RICHEY: But I spent a lot of time with other potential suppliers, not of equipment, but of communications systems to the networks. And it got so bad that when we would go into the room they’d say, “Oh, are you back again?” But it was a joyful time. While there, I had the opportunity to work with a new company called MCI. MCI had a good idea, but didn’t have any money. So I helped Collins Radio people put together a financial package and got him his first 8 million dollars to get MCI started. And because of that he continued to buy Collins equipment which was the best at the time anyway. Our long haul equipment with pre distorted filters in the IF and the RF was excellent. But then I visited a company called Southern Pacific Communications and with their people convinced them that they should build a network because they had some microwave down their present routes. So I convinced them that they should go into competition with MCI down their route. They did and hence it’s a company now called SPRINT.
TAYLOR: I’ll be darned.
RICHEY: I’ll never forget Eastern Microwave. Al was buying equipment from Raytheon at the time and I thought he shouldn’t do that, so I wanted to impress him. So I went in and made an appointment with him and said, “I want to bring some stuff up and show you.” So I took a design engineer, systems engineer, myself, and a rack of equipment and went up and knocked on his door. I said, “I want to show you some good equipment.” And it worked. My philosophy was find somebody that has a need. Go to management and find out if they’ve got the money and the desire. Then go help their engineering group design the system. Then I would bring in a group of engineers and lay the system out, then price it, get it blessed, get an order, and go back to Dallas. It was very successful.
TAYLOR: What did you do after you left Collins?
RICHEY: I left Collins for two reasons. First off, I was visiting my parents back in Arizona who were getting old. It bothered me that it took two days of hard driving to get to St. Johns to visit my parents. They were in need of some attention and I felt a need to get back to the west. At the same time, I took a department that was grossing less than a million a year, and in 5 years I had it grossing over 40 million a year. I didn’t get any… All I got was a salary and an expense account, and the salary was nothing to brag about. The expense account was phenomenal. It was great. My recognition for doing that was that I got a briefcase for it. They needed new people in that division and nobody in the microwave division was given a chance, in their upper management level. It all came out of their avionics group in Cedar Rapids. All their managers came out of that group, so I left.
TAYLOR: Now this is before Collins sold to… who was it that bought…
RICHEY: Northern American. They took over about 6 months before I left. That’s a terrible story because Arthur Collins had a good group of middle managers and they were excellent. And then he got involved in the computer system and started spending gobs of money, tremendous amounts of money on his computer toys. Although I must say that he did develop some good stuff. When the DC 10 was first brought out, he developed a computer system and it was about 8 inches square by about 3 feet long. And you took a DC1O to the end of the runway, programmed the computer, pushed the button, it would take the airplane off, fly it to destination, land it, and stop at the end of the runway. Then you took over and taxied it up to the gate. So he designed it and it was a good system. But during the meantime, he surrounded himself with a bunch of yes men who told him “yes: to whatever he said. And…
TAYLOR: This was before the takeover by North American?
RICHEY: Right, and here he was grossing $435 million a year, the company Collins Radio was. And because he wouldn’t listen to anybody, the bank finally came in and said, “You owe too much money. We’ve got a company here who is going to buy you out. And North American Rockwell bought him out for $35 million in cash. So the moral to that is don’t hide your head in the sand.
TAYLOR: That’ right.
RICHEY: Listen to your middle managers. Anyway, at the same time I had visited my parents in St. Johns and there was a need for a cable system there, but there was a problem getting a cable system in St. Johns, where we needed some pretty hefty microwave. Nobody could solve that problem. At the same time Bruce Merrill came to me and said I sure need your help back in Phoenix. And so between the two or three things, I came back to work for Bruce in Phoenix.
TAYLOR: Oh, so you came back again.
RICHEY: Yes, but I worked only on his microwave. What we were going to do is build a CARS band long haul IF heterodyne system to satisfy some requirements to build some systems in..
TAYLOR: When did you come back in.
RICHEY: I came back to Bruce in 1967. I was in Collins from ’63-’67. No it was more than that.
TAYLOR: Well, I’m confused now. It was ’57 that Earl hired you and I thought you were there until ’67.
RICHEY: Yes from ’67 to ’73 I’m in Collins.
TAYLOR: And then from ’73 … you went back with him.
RICHEY: From ’73 to the end of ’76 I was with Bruce. OK, then in January ’77 I started building my own cable systems. What I did to do that was I found some microwave that had been hauled to the dump in several places, and I don’t know how much of this we ought to publish because some of its a little illegal. But what I did was I found some old junk microwave equipment in basically the 10 to 11 GHz band equipment and I took it home to my patio in Scottsdale and I tore it down and rebuilt it. I rebuilt the filters and the oscillators, all of the frequency sensitive devices to new frequencies, to CARS band, put it all together and built me a CARS band microwave system. So I installed it, and it wasn’t… It was Collins equipment, but it wasn’t Collins equipment of their current type approval. It was type approved at a different band. And so I put it in and that’s how I got my microwave system. Unusual things happened to get that going. I found on a mountain top two 10-foot dishes that I checked around, and they said, “No, they’re surplus.” I said, “Do you mind if I take them?” They said, “No, take them.” So all I had to buy was feed horns. No, they were two 12-foot dishes. So anyway, I built that microwave system and it worked beautifully. So that’s how I got the cable system going.
TAYLOR: George Greene, was he in there at any time.
RICHEY: Oh, yes, George Greene the financial whiz kid. He really was. George Greene was very talented in some regards. He and I personally didn’t get along well.
TAYLOR: Who brought him in. What was he brought in to do.
RICHEY: I can’t think of the man’s name. I can see his build, he was heavy-set. Anyway, he was a financial guy. But he wasn’t very good at it. But as I recall, he had wanted us to get into debt. But anyway, he was brought in when we had gone public and his primary job was to get us on the stock market and get the stock going. That was George Greene. During that period of time, the cable stocks were the darlings of the market. He worked them and played them well and he did a good job.
TAYLOR: That was his strong point.
RICHEY: Absolutely, and he was very good at it. In my way of thinking, his personality was a little brisk and so that gave us some problems. But he was very talented in the financial marketplace. I was in Bruce’s office one day when a guy from Litton Industries came and Bruce asked me to sit in with him and this guy offered Bruce $22 million for Ameco only. Bruce turned it down and said, no I’m going to take the company public and make more than that. I always thought it was a shame not to have taken that offer.
TAYLOR: It was going public — from the outside, the little that I knew about it — that eventually brought Ameco down.
RICHEY: I think so. The pressures came from the wrong directions.
TAYLOR: He never really overcame that.
RICHEY: Let’s face it. Ameco was basically — in our days that we made big progress — was Bruce Merrill and RICHEY: Richey. And we did it as a team. And the financial thing blew Bruce and me apart, because he had to spend more time on that part, and I don’t know if we want to put this in there, but that’s what happened.
TAYLOR: I think, on the outside, we kind of sensed that. (Pause) Jim Connor. Isn’t that the guy you were talking about?
RICHEY: Jim Connor, that’s the race car man, that’s Jim.
TAYLOR: I knew I’d come to it sooner or later.
RICHEY: Jim was a very talented man. He was the one that determined that you can push Bruce Merrill so far, but you know when you’ve pushed him too far when his ears turned bright red. Back off when Bruce’s ears turned red. I had never noticed that because Bruce and I never got that far. We always pretty well thought alike. But, I was trying to think of other episodes we went through. But I enjoyed doing thing for the cable community.
TAYLOR: We were talking about connectors with Earl…
RICHEY: Earl Gilbert?
TAYLOR: Earl Hickman. And he said that Jim Connor had worked for him at Kaiser and he knew that Ameco needed some help and he said Jim Connor left us and went to work for Bruce and took that thought with him. The thought that UHF PL259 connectors were no good.
RICHEY: That’s true.
TAYLOR: It got Ameco into the coaxial connector business and started the joint venture between Ameco and Gilbert Engineering. You filled in a lot of details on that that I didn’t know.
RICHEY: Well, Earl wasn’t around when this other part came about and Jim Connors… His connector thing wasn’t connectors. His connector part was mechanics for his race car and his knowledge of those connectors is what got us into the connector business. It was very important. I had…
TAYLOR: It says that Jim Connors is the guy that is responsible for it. Now, Jim Connors, I understand, was working for RICHEY: Richey over there…I’m sure that Jim Connors was the guy that really put it together.
RICHEY: Jim Connor got Earl Gilbert to do the work in his garage. We supplied most of the technical information. Yes sir.
TAYLOR: [Earl Hickman] said, “You need to talk to RICHEY: because those eight good years that Ameco had, RICHEY: was the chief engineer. You really need to talk to RICHEY:.”
RICHEY: I’ll tell you another episode that I enjoyed. Bruce….this was back when we were trying to get the cable systems built in the Imperial Valley and we had a meeting with AT&T, PacBell, whatever their name was at that time and we met in Southern California, in the desert… 1 can’t remember exactly where it was. It was a big meeting to talk about pole attachment agreements, because they were always giving us a tremendous amount of problems with pole attachment agreements. (Anyway, there’s another story I’ll tell after this one.) But I always enjoyed going into those meeting because the telephone companies had about ten or twelve people there, and they always enjoyed overwhelming you with volume of people, because they got your attention. But we offset this particular meeting, because Bruce Merrill, who is a large man that can just barely go through a door — it kind of touched his hair, at least it did in those days… And his attorney, Don Corbett was a graduate at the University of Arizona and while he was there, he played football. And he actually played professional football with the Washington Redskins. He played guard. He was a big man. In that particular meeting, I remember enjoying it so much because I walked into that room between those two men and most of those people from the telephone company had never seen Bruce or his attorney before and their eyes got immediately big. It was our meeting from then on. Let me tell you another story about…
TAYLOR: Actually, we’re just about to run out of tape here. Let me change it and then we can go on from there.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
START TAPE 2, SIDE A
TAYLOR: OK, we’re on tape 2, side A. You can go on with the other story you were going to tell.
RICHEY: OK. I was talking about the Imperial Valley. We built the… In order to connect those Imperial Valley systems together, we built a cable system in between them and we buried the cable but we knew we had problems. We didn’t have connectors at the time that were good underground. We didn’t have a shrink tube. Raychem hadn’t developed the shrink tube at this time so we knew we couldn’t put connector underground. So, I said OK. We’ll do it this way. We put a pipe, about a 4″ pipe in the ground and brought the aluminum cable up into that and we did the splice above ground, then we put a cap on that cable, screw the cap on, so it was sealed. No water could get into there right. Wrong. So here is this pipe sitting out in the desert and they are irrigating over in the next field over there and here it gets hot. All of a sudden we were having connector problems. It didn’t work. So you go out there and unscrew this cap. The pipe was full of water. It was sucking the water up and just slowly filling those tubes full of water. Another failure. So that was some of the early things that were interesting. Let me tell you another story about a young man we had. His name was Louis Coggins. Louis’ dad was the pro at a golf club for years here in Phoenix. Louis went to ASU and graduated with a degree in geology. He wasn’t #1 in the class and only the guy that was #1 got offered a job as a geologist. The rest of them were menial jobs here and there. So Louis was in between. We had just started building equipment at Ameco and I had just bought some equipment to make our own chassis with. Prior to that we had been sending them out and I needed somebody to operate [the new equipment]. I hired Louis to do those. He was happy to have a job and not long after that he wanted to do something else so I assigned him to a construction crew, and he picked that up real good. He could climb towers, a natural athlete, he was very good at it. We were building a cable system up in Lake Side Pine Top and he was climbing poles. And I believe he was coming down the pole, and his gaff hit into one of the medal ID on the pole. So he did everything right. He pushed off. He dropped on his knees He bent his knees, took the shock. Everything was perfect, except the fact that there was a big malachite rock right out there and as his knee came down it hit his knee cap and drove it up about 6″ above his knee. Just tore it off. So we brought him in to Phoenix to the hospital and the doctors looked at him and said that is terrible, and I don’t know if we can save it. This one doctor said, “You know I was in the military and one thing we found out in World War II was that when people were shot up we did what we could to save what was left.” And so with those techniques they developed during World War II, they threw his knee cap away, took it off and then sewed everything back together and they told Louis that he would have use of that knee, if everything went well he could get 25% use back, but no more than that. So Louis spent the rest of the time in the hospital and then they sent him out and he had the prettiest leg, it was beautiful. He needed a place to work and so I put him on the drafting table. We were laying out cable systems. Every once in a while, we’d go back and Louis would be gone. Then when we came back by, he’d be sitting there, just drenched in sweat. Finally, “I said Louis what are you doing?” He said, “Just a little exercise.” Well, he was determined that he would make that knee work. He’d go out and pushed that knee beyond what they told him to push. He pushed and pushed and pushed. He now has the prettiest knee you ever saw and it’s 100% use. He can do everything with it, but primarily due to his own determination to make it work. He is still in the cable business, somewhere out here in Arizona.
TAYLOR: Seems to me I’ve heard that name, but I don’t know where. I was going over the tabs that I put in Hickman’s interview, and it raises something to talk about. Back in the Great Falls transistor period, Ameco came out with a hybrid, a vacuum tube and a transistor. Was that before or after Great Falls? What was the story on that.
RICHEY: It was after Great Falls. I didn’t finish another story in Great Falls. We determined that we were using DC and so because of the problems with… We were right underneath a big power line and the induced voltage in there was terrible. It was eating us up, even in our grounds – even above the ground because of the induced voltages. So I decided we had to go to AC. So we put AC in, then designed a nice power supply — which was a real great power supply — in the individual amplifiers. It was working great because it didn’t use any extra power to regulate. So Great Falls gave us that. But we also thought, “Let’s try something in between.” So we built an amplifier that had a vacuum tube as the output stage, because our Mesa transistors — the 1141 line, which is what it was — was working fine, but we had not worked out how to do the stud mount transistor yet. So we built an amplifier that was half transistor and it had a tube output and we… The problem with that particular device was tuning it. It was a pain. Because a vacuum tube has different kinds of impedance, and transistors have a much lower impedance and interfacing… It was a pain. But we put it in Clay Center, Kansas. Red Shultz and I went back and put that system in. He would take an amplifier out and put it in the box and he’d read it and say, “Not quite right.” So he’d bring it back to me and I would tune it for that particular position and he’d take that out and get the next one and bring it back. Because in those days, we didn’t have test equipment that we could take to the individual amplifier. We didn’t have the capability. We made it work and it did the job. Fortunately it was a small system, but that was the only system we built that way. But there was a hybrid system built there.
TAYLOR: I remember Ed Whitney was in the a company about then.
RICHEY: Ed Whitney was a marketing genius. Ed was good and helped us get going. He came to Ameco when things were tough in the early days when we just had the broadband low-band amplifiers. Ed was a thinker and a doer and a very talented marketing person.
TAYLOR: Too much, he had a real problem.
RICHEY: It was too bad, but he was very talented and he was good at it. I liked Ed.
TAYLOR: Those of us who knew Ed just felt terrible about the fact that he couldn’t control that. He did finally get it under control, but it was tough.
RICHEY: It was too bad.
TAYLOR: Here is a quotation from Hickman. He says that when I went back to work for Bruce, I just couldn’t believe how a company could be so screwed up. They had literally just spent their money on frills. Every executive in the company had a car, they had a Lear Jet, a contract with General Dynamics to build the equipment to carry the video signals to and from launch complex 39, the moon rocket launch plan.
RICHEY: That’s correct and I’ve been in that system.
TAYLOR: He was starting to talk about that and he said that you were involved in that.
RICHEY: Yeah that led to
TAYLOR: Was that in Huntsville?
RICHEY: No that was at Cape Canaveral.
TAYLOR: The Huntsville came later, I believe.
RICHEY: The Huntsville came later, yes. We built a cable system in Huntsville and that was a very unique building on the base there.
TAYLOR: That was done just before the Charleston thing because they used some of that Huntsville equipment that they built for that, they used in the Charleston headend run.
RICHEY: The biggest problem we had in that Huntsville system was we built it out of… It wasn’t aluminum cable, it was braided — oh, not braided. Anyway it was copper cable and when I swept the system we had the deepest notch I’ve ever seen right at color on channel 5. You could take your hand and walk down the cable and it would go bloop, bloop, bloop. It had an increase in size every so often. They had to buy the system because the spec didn’t say anything about color, it just said black and white TV. So they never got any color through on that one. That was too bad, but it was the cable, it was wrong.
TAYLOR: That was in Huntsville?
RICHEY: Yes, Huntsville.
TAYLOR: That had multiple channels coming down the mountain, didn’t it?
TAYLOR: That was when Earl started talking about the not-quite video experience that came from… 1 guess Roger Wilson was involved in bringing that idea from Dubuque, IA.
RICHEY: Roger Wilson was a very talented man.
TAYLOR: He’s an interesting guy. I wonder what happened to him.
RICHEY: I haven’t seen or heard from Roger in a long time.
TAYLOR: You may not have heard Don Kirk’s story about “not-quite video.” They were getting cross talk between the cables that were, RG59, I was a little surprised at that, but…
RICHEY: That was the first cable we used for that, RG59.
TAYLOR: But they had 5 of them all in a bundle and finally they buried it and separated them and Don Kirk said they used HLD, “high loss dirt”.
RICHEY: That would do it too.
TAYLOR: That did it. He identified it as high loss dirt.
RICHEY: That would be interesting. We used the NQV.
TAYLOR: Now, Pranke comes in here, was he at Ameco while you were there.
RICHEY: Oh, yes, he was there. I hired Pranke. I hired Pranke from Rome.
TAYLOR: Oh that’s right. He says he came from Rome, at the time of the Rome cable.
RICHEY: Just after the Rome cable, after we started the Rome cable thing. He’s a good engineer.
TAYLOR: He turned out to be very helpful all the way around. He did a number of important things.
RICHEY: He was very good..
TAYLOR: Except he also had a problem.
RICHEY: Yes, he did. He had a little problem with self-confidence before that, so I think that contributed to it. He was very talented. I had forgotten about Pranke.
TAYLOR: Earl said, “…when I first went back to work for Ameco, I recognized they were being victimized by lack of knowledge and those things having to do with envelope delay and filters.” He was talking about the LC39.
RICHEY: The LC39 was a problem because we were encouraged to go into it because at the particular time we had modulators and they were very good modulators. And we got into the contract without knowledge that they had to be special frequencies. So they had to be designed for new frequencies and then broad-banded. They had to be more than 4 MHz baseband. They were high definition things and so it took a completely new design of that entire equipment, and that was the problem. Because we really weren’t capable at the particular time of that type of… We didn’t have experience in designing those types of networks. I feel bad about that because I got us into that at that time, but unfortunately it was through a… We were slightly misled.
TAYLOR: You had to change frequencies.
RICHEY: We were led to believe that we would use existing off shelf products.
TAYLOR: An interesting sideline on that is I regularly, about once a week, have lunch with Larry Lockwood, who was working for General Electric or one of the other contractors for NASA at the time, and in his resume he indicates that he designed a 2000 line camera for… Actually it wasn’t for the moon landing vehicle itself, it was for the simulator. He apparently was project director on the simulator for the moon landing.
RICHEY: Oh, really.
TAYLOR: It’s kind of fascinating to listen to him talk about it. He also had been one of the first technical directors at NBC, back in the days when. He was just starting. Another friend… Did you know Cliff Paul.
TAYLOR: Cliff was in NBC the same time Larry was and Cliff died about a year ago I guess… Nova is another thing that comes up which may have been in your watch or…
RICHEY: No, it was after
TAYLOR: Not even in the second watch?
RICHEY: I didn’t have anything to do with it. The second time I was there I…
TAYLOR: You weren’t in the amplifier part of the…
RICHEY: Well, I wasn’t in the amplifier, but I did go out and try to make some of them work.
TAYLOR: I see.
RICHEY: The Nova series was a great idea. I had more problems with the headend equipment for it than anything else.
TAYLOR: Yeah, we talked about…
RICHEY: You know, Santa Barbara was a problem and that’s where we learned so much about aluminum cable. We had the headend up on top of Mount — just north of Santa Barbara — and it was about 4000 ft. and Santa Barbara is right on the coast. And so we came down, just about a couple of miles or so. And that cable would… It had a real problem with the connectors coming apart because it would migrate coming down the hill. And so that’s where we worked out loops and radius and how much to bend it. And we made little wooden tools to form it and that stopped it from migrating down.
TAYLOR: It was just physically sliding down?
RICHEY: Just physically sliding. I must admit that one day I had hurt my foot and so I… We would drive to the top and walk down the system to check it out and it seemed like everyday we had a different problem. I was sitting at the bottom monitoring a signal and all of a sudden the rocks on the opposite hill started to drop off and I realized that I was uncomfortable. We had a little earthquake. I’m sure those kinds of things didn’t help that cable from migrating down there because it got a good shake every once in a while to bring that down. But we finally had to abandon that and put microwave in to replace it because of those physical problems. The biggest problem we really had was because of inaccessibility. The only way to get to the line was by foot. It was terrible. We used horses to get the equipment in to build it — it was terrible — and helicopters to put the line down.
TAYLOR: Thank God for satellites.
RICHEY: Oh, yes.
TAYLOR: All it takes is a launcher to take it 22,000 miles up. Discade, was that after your time?
RICHEY: That was after my time. No. There were a lot of approaches taken to try to come up with things that should have been left alone.
TAYLOR: They never could really take their share of the market from Jerrold, they never could get it. Really, it is amazing when you look at Jerrold, they started back about 1949 with just Milt and maybe Don Kirk and a little later they let Ken Simons come in and work for free and then parlayed it up to where Milt took it and then it’s gone on from there and…
RICHEY: Well, Jerrold had a tremendous position – opportunity. Because we had struggled and I had found all of the secrets and things and how to make it work and so they sat back and then analyzed our equipment and determined the problems and then did this so-called second or third generations. They were able to capitalize on our problems and mistakes. They had a good opportunity to come in and it was good. I started a similar program in our 70 series and… But to be truthful, I couldn’t control Rheinfelder. He was the designer of that particular series of equipment. It didn’t work. I couldn’t control him. He was just too hard headed and wouldn’t take no or yes or leave it. It wasn’t good.
TAYLOR: I was interviewing Ike Blonder and the dates are not very much later than Milt starting with Jerrold. So I asked him, “How come you guys never really got big in CATV equipment? You had good equipment and were hard working at it, advancing and so on…”
IVLILFORD: What did he say?
TAYLOR: He said, “Well we didn’t have the money to finance our customers. That’s what Jerrold did. They financed the customers one way or another. He said, “We just didn’t have enough resources to do that.” I don’t know where Milt got the resources to do it, although I suspect it came from this sheet metal guy that worked with him, Dalck Feith. He was in his own right a multimillionaire and then when Jerrold was somehow liquidated, he got a big piece of Jerrold and was really a very wealthy man. I suspect that he made a lot of the ability for Shapp to finance customers. Of course, that then got him into antitrust problems, but..
RICHEY: Well, it was a very important aspect. At that particular time you couldn’t find money to develop a system. It was very critical in the industry to bring it through. Well I probably haven’t helped you a lot but we had a lot of good times. Worked hard.
TAYLOR: I had an experience. I met Joe Hale. You knew Joe Hale, I guess. When he was in south San Francisco when I first met him. South San Francisco Cable sat right under Mt. San Bruno and with two full powered VHF TV transmitters and some of his homes were maybe a mile and a half from some of these towers. He told me that he could go out and tighten up his system, and two weeks later it would all be leaking again. He had a terrible time. One day the AMP salesman came in and he had that big hex high pressure tool to crimp down on it and in order to crimp down you had to have something under it. You couldn’t just crimp down because you would squash the aluminum, so he had a steel sleeve that he put in under the aluminum, then you could crimp down on it. Joe saw that and said, “That’s just what I need.” So he bought some of them and put them in and it really made a difference. Jerrold then picked it up with the integral sleeve, eventually. Well first it was the VCK I guess they had, it was a sleeve you put in… The trouble with that was you never could be sure whether it was in there or not because the contractors didn’t like to fuss with that coring bit and there was no way you could inspect it.
RICHEY: That’s right.
TAYLOR: And they knew that. So that was when Eric Winston came up with the integral sleeve. That problem is pretty well behind us now I think.
RICHEY: That radiation sleeve is the secret to that. Oh, it made the difference. Yes, sir.
TAYLOR: It did several things, It just kept it tight so you didn’t get moisture in it. And you didn’t get ingress, you didn’t get leakage, all those things. But it did make it harder to install.
RICHEY: See, when I built my systems, I built them all underground because I didn’t want anything to do with any pole people, and besides its more efficient underground and…
TAYLOR: Jack Blanchard, is that the guy you were trying to think of earlier? No, he’s an engineer.
RICHEY: No, Jack Blanchard was around, but… When I built my systems underground, I used radiation sleeve underground just because of the security of the sleeve. I didn’t have any problem with radiation because I have that great dirt — high loss dirt — and it worked very well.
TAYLOR: Chaneleer, was that your time. Pranke was involved in that, very deeply.
RICHEY: Yes, I started it and it was Pranke’s project, that’s what I hired him for, to build the Chaneleer. Yes, sir.
TAYLOR: Was it your watch when they had the fiasco in Chicago in the…
RICHEY: Actually, no. It was just after.
TAYLOR: Earl tells the story very nicely.
RICHEY: Oh, I’ll never forget that. We went to one Chicago show and we were in the Lear Jet. And as we were getting ready to land we kept hearing all this trap noise and traffic. And it seems somebody else with a Lear Jet had come in to land and ran out of fuel just short of the runway and landed in the lake. But fortunately because it was a pressurized cabin, it floated and they went out and towed it in. But it certainly brought our things to sharp focus about getting to land in Chicago.
TAYLOR: That was a Lear Jet you say?
RICHEY: Yes, the first Lear Jet.
TAYLOR: Bruce picked me up in Washington to take me out to see the Discade at Daly City, I guess that was. Coming back, my wife knew I was on a small private plane, just about the same time we were due to land at National Airport in Washington, a plane overshot the runway and ended up in the swamp area on one end. That got on the radio and my wife heard it and she went, oh my God. Unfortunately, that was somebody else’s problem, not mine.
RICHEY: I remember the first day Bruce came back to my office and said… At this time we had a Queen Air. That was a nice airplane, but it took a long time to get anywhere. I was wasting time sitting on that airplane during the day. He said, “Do you need to go anyplace today?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve got some stuff to take to (I think it was) Chico, CA.” And he says, “Well come on, I want to show you something. So I got my box of stuff and went with him to the airport. And he said, “I want you to look at this.” And it was the Lear Jet. It was the first one. He says, “We’re going to take this for a ride today to see what you think of it.” I’ll never forget taking off in the airplane. We took off and he was still climbing at 10,000 feet going up and you could still look out the window and see straight back down the airplane at the field. We just climbed straight up. That was a real interesting flight. We got there in about an hour and a half. We had all day to do our work. We came home just after dark. It was fantastic, a great tool. Whether it was worth the cost, I don’t know.
TAYLOR: One thing I learned on a trip going to Daly City was that it couldn’t fly across the country, it didn’t have enough fuel. They had to stop somewhere and they stopped in Denver. Well, that plane doesn’t go to the main terminal, it goes to the general aviation terminal and there you get snack sandwiches, not a meal. It was just a little different from first class travel.
RICHEY: We had a little problem with that Lear Jet. We were coming back from someplace in Kentucky, something like that. We landed in Dallas and one of the guys went to get some beer. So here we were between Dallas and Phoenix and he consumed too much beer and we had a woman on board with us and the john at that time, you know the newer ones have that separate thing, but the john at that time was just a seat that you lift up and you used it in front of everybody. Boy, this guy jumped up and down and he finally made it, but he had a hard time getting to Phoenix.
TAYLOR: Gay Rogeness. Was he in your term?
RICHEY: Gay. Yes, I hired him.
TAYLOR: Do have any idea where he is now?
RICHEY: No, I haven’t heard a thing from him.
TAYLOR: He came to Washington about a couple of years ago and called me. But I don’t have any idea where he is now. I’d love to interview him. He had some interesting…
RICHEY: He should have.
TAYLOR: After leaving Ameco, I guess he went with Anaconda.
TAYLOR: Oh, that was another name that turned up. Vic Tarbutton. Was he with you?
RICHEY: No. Vic came right after I did.
TAYLOR: He evidently went with Rogeness to Anaconda, and then took over Century when Anaconda dropped off.
RICHEY: Yeah, we started a lot of people. In fact, I remember at the old NCTA Conventions, we had a night where we had the Alumni Association
TAYLOR: Alumni…Jerrold had a lot of Alumni everywhere.
RICHEY: That used to upset Bruce. He was upset about those things! I was talking to Bruce the other day about those times. He said, you know we ought to have an alumni meeting? And we should.
TAYLOR: Gary Grammen at Dynair. Earl said that Dynair built that solid state modulator.
RICHEY: That’s right. I went over and I met with Grammen and they had the beginnings of a modulator they were building for somebody else and I had them, under contract, build that solid state modulator for us. It was the gold Ameco modulator that was built for years. So, yeah, he built it for us. I got him to do it. And I don’t know if that was good or bad. But at the time, I didn’t have the personnel to go design that unit.
TAYLOR: Earl says, “I think at one time I came to the conclusion that Bruce wanted to try to be all things to all people in the cable business and I think Jerrold was the one that he was trying to out-do.”
RICHEY: I think that was a very good statement.
TAYLOR: Fairly obvious too.
RICHEY: Yeah, very obvious.
TAYLOR: Did you know anything about the laser link, Joe Vogelman and Ira Kamen?
TAYLOR: That was all Earl, after Earl left, I guess.
RICHEY: Yeah, I didn’t have anything to do with that. (Long pause) You know, back when we had those production facilities going, 24 hours a day, you’d think that you would have other kinds of problems. But one of the problems we had was keeping the parking lots adequately lit because the employees would go out in the parking lot, instead of working, and enjoy themselves. We had a time there when the nighttime supervisors preferred to be nighttime supervisors. Later, we found out why.
TAYLOR: The climate chamber that you built was probably the first one in the industry.
RICHEY: To my knowledge it was.
TAYLOR: It was to mine too. Earl mentions here the ATR link from Heliograph Peak to Silver City, NM, ninety-two miles long.
TAYLOR: A lot of people say that’s not possible, but there’s one in Montana from TV Mountain to Big Mountain near Kalispell, that’s 109 miles long, over a lake as a matter of fact.
RICHEY: Well, that could be good or bad depending on the conditions.
TAYLOR: It turned out to be good because it was a very reliable hop.
RICHEY: You know, everybody told us lots of things that we couldn’t do. But of course we did them. I’ll tell you another thing that we may not want to put in there. We had tenth watt Motorola equipment. One watt equipment was very expensive — if you could find any. So I said, “Well, I can make you a one watt unit out of there.” So I rigged me up a little device and got me a Varian 1-watt tube, took the other one out and put it in and we had one watt transmitters for years up there. We did a lot of those things. When I built my own cable systems, I told you about building that microwave system. My first hop… I selected the off-the-air point to make sure I didn’t get any multi-path from the transmitters, so that I had good solid signal. As a matter of fact, I put a recorder on it for months to make sure I had good solid signals and it was perfect. Good signal level. It was within 3 dB of calculated signal level. It was constant — there all the time. So then my first path was over 65 miles long at CARS band, and I said, “Well that won’t work. It went through a forested area. The annual rainfall is between 20 and 30 inches of rain per year. It isn’t going to work.” I put the system in, and – yes — during certain times of the summer, we would get rain attenuation, but very little. It worked beautifully, and at 65 miles. Then we went through a repeater, and went through 3 paths: one of them 30 miles, the other one 25, another one 12 miles. They had a power split to do that. It worked beautifully. People will tell you that it won’t work, but it does.
TAYLOR: Earl mention Russell Yost along with Bill Rheinfelder at Motorola. Was he somebody you knew.
RICHEY: Russell Yost doesn’t ring much of a bell.
TAYLOR: Apparently he made quite an impression on Earl with multipole networks. Earl said, “He wrote an article on multipole networks for broadband impedance matching that influenced several of the designs that I had done back in the early vacuum tube days.”
RICHEY: No, I didn’t know him.
TAYLOR: He points out that the development of ferrites made a big difference to broadband transformers.
RICHEY: Absolutely. We had a terrible problem with matching devices until the good ferrites… We had some of the first ferrites that were… They were good enough to get your attention, and we used them anyway. Then when the good ferrites came out, oh man, did it make a difference.
TAYLOR: The homogenized Chaneleer.
RICHEY: That was a good unit. It had a bunch of problems
TAYLOR: It was begun by Gay Rogeness, but Pranke finished it.
RICHEY: Gay had very little to do with it. It almost did him in.
TAYLOR: Bert Henscheid. Apparently Earl hired Bert right out of college at Kaiser. Well, Bert worked at Ameco I believe, didn’t he?
RICHEY: A lot of people worked for him that I didn’t know.
TAYLOR: Talking about the field strength meter, he saw what he thinks was a 704 Jerrold over at the Hoffman Laboratories in Los Angeles. But by the time you got into Ameco, the 704 was apparently pretty much a standard.
RICHEY: Yes, it was. The 704 was the heart of things for many years.
TAYLOR: (Reading from Hickman’s interview.) “The way the cable television industry started. We jumped right into the business, and we didn’t have the things we literally had to invent. We know that necessity is the mother of invention and out of necessity we had to invent test equipment devices. You might want to do something in the field, you might want to split the cables 3 ways or something. You just literally would scribble on the nearest cardboard box to design some of the pieces of equipment.” I get this story from everybody.
RICHEY: That’s true. Necessity invented many things.
TAYLOR: One thing I’d like to hear from you is any thoughts you have on where we are going in the cable television industry, telecommunications industry. I’m sure you have some thoughts, and the business you’re in.
RICHEY: Well, I feel that there will always be a need for cable television. I am very disappointed in the industry in the way they have handled their public image. Because their public image of today is a greedy bunch of no-goods that do nothing but take the public. And in reality the one thing that cable industry has forgotten over the years is their quality determines their image and quality has been forgotten long ago. All they are interested in is return on investment and it’s too bad.
TAYLOR: It seems to me that… 1 felt that one of the real bad things is when they started getting $2 and $3 thousand a sub when you can go out and build a new system for $500 to $800 a sub. Cable wasn’t the only business that highly leveraged on junk bonds and so on, and now they are stuck with debt service and that means that they can’t do a good job of what they are doing. They can’t expand or improve and they have to raise rates.
RICHEY: When I sold my systems, the guy that bought them paid way too much for them. There’s no doubt about it. A year later he sold them again for 50% more than I did. And now the new guy’s got them and he has a debt that’s terrible. And his customer load has dropped to about… More than one-fourth of his customers have gone. I think he has got somewhere around 60% of what he had when I sold them. The picture quality stinks. Service — there isn’t any. And it’s just slowly dying because of financial pressures on the system.
TAYLOR: There are some good systems out there that are still doing a job, doing it good both technical and service wise. I have gone in to review a good number of them. In fact, the one’s that I’m asked to review I find in pretty good performance. I guess that’s why I’m not asked to review the others.
RICHEY: I had an opportunity to examine the Corning/New York cable system here about a year ago. Their image is almost perfect.
TAYLOR: Which system is that?
RICHEY: Corning/New York. It was a beautiful system. It’s well done. It’s got a good image. They’ve got about 90+ percent customers. That’s the kind of system we ought to have, because they cared about the customer. They’d looked at it through the eyes of the customer all along, whereas most of them look through it through the eyes of the bank. When I owned my cable system, the thing that I gave them was service. Whenever it was necessary, I got up out of bed. Except I didn’t one time when a guy called me and he was awfully drunk. He said, “This blankety-blank cable system…” Well I told him to go to bed. The next morning I was up out there before he was and I checked the cable system and it was fine. The only problem is that he had forgotten how to turn the TV on. But, anyway, I think that one of the problems with cable is that they have not had the competition that they needed. I think they are about to get the competition.
TAYLOR: No question about it.
RICHEY: Direct Broadcast has its advantages and its disadvantages. It doesn’t have local service and local service. And really, what most of your customers watch is your local stations. And so if you’re going to watch local stations, who needs DBS.
TAYLOR: Yes, but what they watch on the local stations is the networks, network programming. Which is not local.
RICHEY: That’s true. But the primary watch is the news and believe it or not the advertising.
TAYLOR: The what?
RICHEY: The ads. They need the ads to know where to buy things. So they need those two things, at least that’s my analysis of it. So DBS is a threat. It’s going to have a problem. But it’s not the solution. It’s not going to solve all the…
TAYLOR: It can’t be the full solution. No question it’s going to be a useful service.
RICHEY: There are a lot of people who are scattered who don’t get service now and they will be able to get more service for less price from DBS than they are currently getting from their present satellite service that they’re using now. It will be an advance, but I don’t think that DBS is going to have the success that they have forecast.
TAYLOR: Now, your business now is in what officially is called MMDS, is that right?
RICHEY: We are in the wireless cable business, doing MMDS primarily.
END TAPE 2, SIDE A
START TAPE 2, SIDE B
RICHEY: Reminds of me of two things. Number one, what it was like in the early days of cable when we were trying to get money because money wasn’t available. The wireless cable has had that problem, except for the last 6 to 8 months. All of a sudden the money is starting to pour into cable. That’s fine, a good aspect and its beginning to grow. The other problem is the bureaucracy that’s created the problem. When wireless was first started, it was to be the competitor to cable. But because of the way the broadcast group lobbied the commission and Congress, they created so many road blocks that you can’t own enough channels to really got it started. So it’s been a real problem. Then they wouldn’t let you lease from somebody else. Well most of those problems have been solved. Now you can lease from other license holders to a point now that you can put together a package. Now the financial community is beginning to accept those packages. There has been some successes in cities like Tucson and Riverside.
TAYLOR: Well, I would think also that what the cable industry calls “the infamous Cable Act of 1992” which opens programming quite a bit more.
RICHEY: That helped. You could get it, but it was terribly expensive. Not all services, but you could get some, enough to make it worthwhile.
TAYLOR: But often times it was a discriminatory offering.
RICHEY: Oh, absolutely, and it was intended to be that way.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
RICHEY: And it was an economical situation and the suppliers knew it and they took advantage of it.
TAYLOR: I get amused when the telephone companies say, “Well why should we help our competitors get on our poles and use our fibers and so on? Why should we help our competitors?” Well, that is the same thing that the cable people say, “Why should we provide programming for competitors?” So it’s a… The arguments go both ways.
RICHEY: Oh absolutely. But one advantage to this delay is that the equipment for wireless is very excellent equipment. It’s far superior to equipment that was available when the cable service started. The quality that is capable by wireless is very good. The wireless business has had problems and it still has problems in its capabilities. The maximum is 33 channels and not all of those are available in all cities. So, you roughly have around 25 channels plus what you can get off the air, and that is a problem. The regular cable business is looking toward compression as a way to help them. But in reality, compression is going to help wireless far more than it would help the standard traditional cable. So the wireless business is looking forward to that with great anticipation. Because then, if we got 3 or 4 [programs] per channel, and if we have 25 channels, then they could compete very well with the so-called traditional cable systems. But right now, even with the lower number of channels, they’re competing very well with cable. I believe that more channels does not necessarily help you sell. I’m convinced somewhere 20 to 30 channels is really the optimum. Because if you get more channels than that, then you begin to confuse your customers. You never can select…
TAYLOR: The problem the cable industry is facing is called “navigation.” How do you navigate through that mess?
RICHEY: And how do you instruct your customer on how to navigate? It’s a real problem, whereas if you limit the number of channels, I think you’re better off.
TAYLOR: I had occasion to work with People’s… Is that what it’s called?
RICHEY: Peoples Choice.
TAYLOR: Yes. In fact I did some of the geographic work for them. That’s a natural down there, because Tucson is in a flat valley surrounded by — circled by — mountains. But that mountain at the edge of Tucson, on the west side downtown, is a beautiful place to put a transmitting tower. There are not a lot of trees like you have in Chicago or some of the other places.
RICHEY: Absolutely. That’s right. Trees are a real problem.
TAYLOR: And there are not too many high rise building that cause problems. It’s a natural. Sacramento seems to be another very successful one. Then there’s one down in Southern California. Is it Richmond or Redmond?
RICHEY: East Los Angeles area.
TAYLOR: Yes, south and east of Los Angeles.
RICHEY: Very successful there. Lots of trees in that area.
TAYLOR: We did some work for the Western Communications Cable company down there.
TAYLOR: Yes, that’s the one.
RICHEY: That’s the most successful wireless operation there is. There are some systems that only have 8 channels that are successful. And it’s the way they treat their customers — and the quality.
TAYLOR: They have never gotten off the ground successfully in Washington. There have been at least two attempts to make it work and they’ve gone into bankruptcy. I have a feeling there were some internal problems that did that.
RICHEY: A lot of it is greed and a lot is problems that cost you. In a traditional cable system, it costs you several hundred dollars per home to pass by it. Now with the traditional cable system you spend all that money up front, so you know what your investment is. In a wireless system you don’t, because the whole time you are continually spending it because you have to supply that home with its equipment. So each time you make a hook-up, it will cost you in the neighborhood of $400 to $500 to install that equipment in that home. So unless you have a good source of money, when you start the operation you can’t begin to grow. I know one operator that would put a little one-inch ad in the newspaper asking people, if they were interested to call this number. They were swamped with more service, more people asking for service than they had the financial capability of handling, because it took bootstrap operation. Now that the financial world has found them out, those problems are beginning to be solved and there is money now available to start putting them in. But I think that cable started in the right direction. One thing that used to bring horrors to me at night was to sit and analyze the total number of connectors in series between the headends and any one customer. That’s a horrible problem and most of those things have been put together with somebody in a hurry. So, that alone has caused many nightmares. Cable’s got a problem, and it diminishes quality. Cable has forgotten too long about quality. They have been living on their past and on the only ball game in town. They’ve got to change that, and many systems are, through the use of optics.
TAYLOR: Optics are what really…
RICHEY: It will help improve it. But many people aren’t using optics, I think, in the way they should and doing it in a way that would complement the whole system. They are just putting a little here and there to offset the problem. And maybe it’s the bootstrap operation again, they’ve got to do it…
TAYLOR: It probably is bootstrap because the majors that are really planning ahead are planning… For a while they were looking at maybe 1000 homes per optic node. They were talking 500, and some were talking even 250 homes per optic node. The interesting thing — and Bob Spann hired me to try and help him on a couple of deals to convince them of this fact — even with fiber optics quite deeply penetrated you still have just as much coaxial cable as before. Maybe a different size, or different architecture, but you still had cable on every street going by every home. So there still probably are just as many connectors, maybe even more, but they aren’t in series.
RICHEY: And one advantage wireless will always have over cable, and that’s phase delay. Because you’ve got phase delay as you go down on the cable. When you measure every channel, the longer you have the system, the more delay you have. With wireless you don’t have that. So there’s an advantage.
TAYLOR: That’s right.
RICHEY: But the encrypted compression system is going to be very interesting for cable.
TAYLOR: A lot of bugs on that before going…
RICHEY: I think that waiting around for it… The cable industry has made a horrible mistake in waiting around for this big committee to make their own decisions, whereas they should have decided on their own. And may be this so called group that they have that’s supposed to making decision, if they had – you’ll pardon me, a little more balls.–.and make the decisions and get going, they’d get the thing done. Because this is long past…
TAYLOR: You’re speaking about the CableLabs, or the MPEG group?
RICHEY: Both of them.
TAYLOR: Of course MPEG has got a lot more involved than just the cable business.
RICHEY: Oh, absolutely. But I think the cable business has been waiting for MPEG to make their decisions.
TAYLOR: Oh, that’s no question.
RICHEY: It’s ridiculous. They should had gone out and done it alone and I think this year we are seeing people who are ignoring MPEG and going ahead on what could be the right solution.
TAYLOR: Jerrold is in part going that route, I think.
RICHEY: It’s ridiculous to have waited this long.
TAYLOR: Before we wind this thing up, why don’t you summarize by citing the things that you’re proud of having contributed the cable industry in your period with Ameco? I don’t mean concentrating on that, because you have contributed some things in Collins and perhaps elsewhere.
RICHEY: I think that the thing that I probably helped more, personally is helping people get into the business and bringing talented people into the cable operation, primarily the engineering ones.
TAYLOR: Into the operation.
TAYLOR: That’s distinct from manufacturing.
RICHEY: Yes. But I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the right people around me to get the solid state amplifiers going and working. I enjoyed getting the aluminum cable industry off the ground, because I think I was the influence that got it started and going in the right direction for cable. And I think without microwave, cable would have been dead.
TAYLOR: I think that’s probably true.
RICHEY: So, because in reality without the microwave system, the long haul, IF heterodyne systems, that showed the need for importing signals, we would not have the satellite systems we have today. So I think it was a stepping stone to get where we are today. It was very important. I enjoyed it.
TAYLOR: Well, we certainly realized the need for additional programming that we struggled with for many years. Microwave was one of the solutions…
RICHEY: It was just a beginning step, a stepping stone to get us to where we are today.
TAYLOR: I talked with 2 or 3 people about the big parabolic antennas and so called tropo-scatter antennas that went in, and that was a desperate reach.
RICHEY: I helped Bob Latham with one over in California, and it worked fairly well. It was amazing.
TAYLOR: Well, they worked. There was no question about it.
RICHEY: But you know, propagation is like… There is a cable system right here in Arizona in Payson. Earl Hickman owned that system and he and his people spent months — I think in reality years — finding the signals up there. Because signals aren’t where you think they are. You have to go find them.
TAYLOR: That’s true.
RICHEY: He found them and located them and built the system and it was working very well. And a large owner from back east bought the cable system. Then he came out here and he looked at that headend and said, “What a pile of junk! Build me a tower right here, and put me a set of quads on each channel on that tower and let’s get away from this junk down here.” About 6 months later, they put a microwave system in there to get some decent signals back in. They never could find the places that Earl had found, because they destroyed it. So a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. Let me talk about one other aspect. Let me go back to wireless cable. There is a great need for wireless cable. There was an operation that was kind of forced upon us, and that was the need to go to multichannel single owner capability for wireless. And they forced the need for someone to look at and ask for the point-to-point frequencies at 28 GHz to be able to be used for this multipoint distribution system instead of point-to-point. The FCC was kind enough to grant that to begin with and they granted one license. They actually granted two, but never issued the second. Of course, that’s a good example of bureaucracy and… You know, I’m very disappointed in our FCC.
TAYLOR: Oh, I am too. I used to have a high regard for it but …
RICHEY: You know the typical problem with bureaucracy, when you got a bunch of lawyers running a technical operation. And then they hire a bunch a people that don’t have enough time, or in most cases, knowledge to do their job. And they expect them to do what we do. The industry has the capability to perform all the work and do all the answers for them, but then you get it to a guy that doesn’t know how to use it… And it’s ridiculous.
TAYLOR: I’ve been concerned for many years about having an engineer on the commission.
RICHEY: You remember back in the 30s, when that’s all there were?
TAYLOR: For many, many years, there was always an engineer on there. Webster, Cross, Sterling, . . .the last one was Tam Craven and while Tam wasn’t one of the greatest engineers he was an influence and he had the engineering approach to things and he understood it. It was important.
RICHEY: Yes, important,
TAYLOR: Now, they are down to 5 people instead of 7 so the chances of getting an engineer on there are even less. Somebody pointed out to me — I guess it was Delmer Ports a number of years ago — the way to get an engineer in there is when the President has to appoint somebody of the opposite party and it gets to be a throw-away at that point. You’re not making a reward for supporting him. The time to get it is when he has to appoint the opposite party.
RICHEY: That’s a good point.
TAYLOR: So I raised that with the NCTA Engineering Committee about 6 or 8 or 9 months ago. Because the Democratic President had to appoint a non-Democrat to the Commission. And people were kind of amused and thought that was an interesting idea. But that was about as far as it would go.
RICHEY: That should have been pushed.
TAYLOR: It would take somebody to really push, and I didn’t have what it took to push it. So we didn’t get it. We got two more lawyers.
RICHEY: Now the commission has messed around with that group of frequencies and delayed it and it may have been destroyed now too. It’s too bad.
TAYLOR: The telephone company hasn’t been innocent of messing around in there either. They want to use it for various purposes of their own and
RICHEY: Absolutely. They’d still like to use it. So I don’t think that they are hurting it at the moment. I think they may have stirred things up in the early stages of it, but I think they would like very much to use it now. It’s just not available to anybody the way they are doing this…
TAYLOR: Well, I’m going to say I certainly appreciate this opportunity to…
RICHEY: I’m sorry I got on the box.
TAYLOR: Well, I get on the same box as a matter of fact. But I do thank you very much for giving me the time to make this recording. This has been a very interesting experience. Let me say that if you think of something that you didn’t say and you wish you had, three things to do; either call me, write to, or when you get the transcript, it’ll jog your memory and throw something else in when you get it.
RICHEY: Thank you. I appreciate this opportunity. Thank you.
TAYLOR: Well, that will end our session and I’ll head off to the airport.