Interview Date: Tuesday February 18, 1992
Collection: Archer Taylor Technical Collection
Note: Audio Only
TAYLOR: This is the first tape and we’re on side A. I’m interviewing Ken Simons. I think one of the first things we are going to do is to make sure his name is spelled right … S-I-M-O-N-S. Is your name Keneth?
SIMONS: With one N.
TAYLOR: With one N. That’s what I thought I remembered. Keneth with one N, but he usually goes by simply Ken. We are at Ken’s house in Willow Grove, and we’ll go on with the … Let me check this out first. All right, we are picking it up again here and Ken has given me Exhibit A which identifies the location of many of the people we will be talking about; Exhibit B which is a resume of Keneth A. Simons and Exhibit C which is a list of all of the jobs that he’s had. He calls it twenty-three. He’s a very stable individual. Your degree–education–was the BSEE at the University of Pennsylvania, the Moore School. Then you went to work with RCA; well you went to work with WIBG.
SIMONS: WCAU. Well, after graduation I went to work with WCAU.
TAYLOR: Oh, I see, the WIBG was during school and RCA …
SIMONS: Why don’t you let me go through in sequence?
TAYLOR: All right. Why don’t you do that then.
SIMONS: I’ll try to make it brief. I grew up in a small town named Bryn Athyn, which is a religious community just fifteen miles north of Philadelphia. My father was a dry goods clerk, never made more than $50 a week in his life and raised a family of eight children on that. He died of pneumonia during the same week that my older brother died in 1929.
In 1927, I discovered a thing called ham radio and it changed my life completely. I hardly remember spending any time in high school, I spent all my time on ham radio and I have a picture here which dates back to those days. I can’t say too much about the advantages of ham radio as a means of educating young men in electronics. It is certainly where I learned a great deal of what I did learn.
TAYLOR: I will interrupt here to say that Ken handed me a picture of himself at age 19 with a lawyer friend, Alex Lindsay. It will be marked as “exhibit to be returned.”
SIMONS: After high school I got my first job operating a transmitter for WIBG which was then in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The transmitter had two tubes in it, two 50 watters, one modulator and one oscillator. The most remarkable event in the six months that I worked for them was the night that we had a frequency check from the FCC and my boss was listening to the beat note on the telephone while he was tuning the knob on the self-excited oscillator. We were in the honor list for being within twenty cycles for that month. Just an accident! Anyway, they paid twelve cents an hour and after six months, they owed me $360, a very unrenumerative job, but I learned. After that, one of my neighbors, who was in the Chamber of Commerce in Camden, New Jersey, had a personal friend who was the head of personnel at RCA. He gave me a letter of introduction, and I marched into the personnel office and got a job as stock boy on night shift. I like to tell the story that I walked into Leo Bershim’s office at 7:00 a.m. He interviewed me for the job by picking up a yellow cylindrical thing and said, “Ken, what’s this?” And I said, “That’s an electrolytic capacitor 8 microfarads capacity 450 volt rating.” He said, “You got the job.”
As a stock boy, I had to know one part from another, that was all. This was just after the days when RCA had manufactured radio receivers then poured tar all over them so nothing would move. Troubleshooting consisted of hitting it with a hammer and if it didn’t play again, you would throw it away. So all the tools troubleshooters had in those days were screwdrivers, pliers and soldering irons. So the second night I was there, I was consulting with one of the troubleshooters as to how we could go about getting test equipment so we can measure voltage and current and we were pouring over a piece of paper on which we scribbled, and Leo, the boss came up behind and said, “What are you fellas doing?” So, I explained that we were working on test equipment and he said, “Simons, you are fired!” This was my first important job, and my ears were ringing, my eyes were fluttering, and I was scared to death. He said, “You are fired as a stock boy. You are now working as a test equipment designer for the troubleshooters.”
And from then on for about a year, I designed test equipment. We had a very elaborate set up with crystal controlled radio frequency generators modulated with 400 cycles, just like on the factory floor, only I built all of it and it speeded things up greatly.
Anyway, I went on from there to get into test equipment maintenance in the factory and when I went to college, which was about two years later, in 1934, I still came back to RCA in the summers and worked on either test equipment maintenance or test equipment designs. Test equipment has been what I did, regardless of what my job title was throughout my life. I had a lot of job titles. Anyway, I went through four years of college. The very clear reason for the nice things that happened to me at the university was the fact I had been in industry two years before I went to school. I knew a volt from an ohm and I was the only one in the class who did and that helped greatly and put me in a position where on graduation I got a nice $250 prize and a scholarship for the following year if I wanted a master’s degree. However, I was so fed up with scrimping and saving, because I put myself through college and earned my own way. I had no money. So, I got the biggest paying job I could find, which was summer relief at WCAU as studio operator. I had some very wonderful adventures that summer.
One, in which I opened Gene Krupa with the volume controls up too far and blew WCAU off the air. But, it was very educational. In the fall, after a little indecision, I went back to RCA beginning as a student engineer. That was not my bag. So when I offered to quit there, they asked me if I ever heard of the word “television.” I had, but not much.
TAYLOR: What year was this?
SIMONS: This was 1938, in the fall. So I was sent to New York as one of ten young men who were being trained by RCA to become TV trainers of radio service men, so they could spread this group around the country. We were taught by a wonderful man named Ernie Johnson, whose favorite saying was, “Are you sure, Ken?” And I would say, “I’m sure.” Then he would say, “Are you sure you’re sure?” He never believed anything unless he could touch it himself. His method of training, I believe, is immortal. It deserves to be done by every trainer of young men in television or radio. He would fix up various faults in half a dozen of the RCA TV receivers that we had and our job was to find the fault–what was wrong. We learned the process of troubleshooting, which is at the basis of all engineering. All engineering really involves is building it wrong twelve times so the thirteenth time it comes out right.
TAYLOR: Were these radio or television receivers or both?
SIMONS: Television. I have here a schematic diagram of the RCA field test receiver. This is the receiver that preceded the TRK-12. The receiver that was originally designed in 1936 and it’s amazing how much of the circuitry survives till this day; the horizontal damper tube and so on, a lot of what we do is still done the same way.
TAYLOR: Do you happen to know what the date of this is?
SIMONS: Well, the original design is 1936 but I got it in 1939. The receiver had one remarkable feature. If you look at the circuit you will find that across the second video stage, there is a variable potentiometer in series with a capacitor labeled “detail.” It’s recognizable as the tone control that the radio designer put in there because that’s normal in radio sets; of course, smeary pictures are not generally considered to be as important in television.
TAYLOR: Is this a commercial TV set?
SIMONS: No, this is pre-commercial. They only made 200 of them. There were 100 in Manhattan when I landed there. Only special people, like newspaper people, editors, had them. That’s all the television there was in Manhattan at that time. In fact, I was in Manhattan for three months adjusting receivers with test patterns before I saw a live program. On one occasion, I fixed General Sarnoff’s receiver, with his Chinese butler supervising. I never did meet General Sarnoff.
Perhaps the most exciting experience with that receiver was the time when Ernie Johnson and I were assigned to install one at the home of Moss Hart, in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and when we got there we discovered he had weekend guests–a honeymooning couple know as Robert TAYLOR: and Barbara Stanwyck. It was quite delightful to show Barbara how to adjust the knobs on a television set.
Anyway, Ernie picked me out of that group as perhaps the one that talked the most and I had the job of giving slide lectures to service men in the New York area. Ernie was the photographer and he found every bit of material he could on television and made glass slides of it, and I paraded up and down the east coast with my newly married wife and gave lectures on television to various assembled radio service men. That went on for about six months. Each week was full. I would start Monday morning in Bridgeport, Connecticut, then Newburgh, New York; Easton, Pennsylvania; Manhattan, and then winding up in Camden Saturday morning where I was supposed to talk it all into the Dictaphone which was a very awkward procedure.
Anyway, that year, 1940, was quite eventful for me. I was married in January, in June I was assigned to the Wendell Wilkie Campaign Special. So during all this summer, I spent three months on the Wendell Wilkie train. On one occasion I told Mrs. Wilkie … I got very friendly with Mrs. Wilkie … I told her that I objected to the fact that Mr. Wilkie was a college professor but he talked like a hick. And she said, “Don’t tell me, tell Wendell,” and she shoved me into the living room in back of the train and said, “Mr. Wilkie, this young man wants to tell you something.” So I told him and he explained to me that the business he was in being politics and how he wanted to come across as a down home type of person and didn’t think the college professor act would go over so big. He said, for instance, “President of the United States” when he referred to FDR, who was his opponent. During the three months I spent on his campaign, the most exciting thing that happened was that my beloved wife was in her last three months of her pregnancy. She called me on the train when it was just outside of Chicago at 5:00 a.m. and said my son was on the way. I did my best to get back. I walked into the hospital room at 8 o’clock that night and I said, “Reta, when are you going down?” She looked at me with her soul in her eyes and said, “I’ve been.” We had a bouncing baby boy.
After that, the next year I accepted a job with WCAU again. This time as general engineer with the responsibility of installing transmitters and making studio layouts. In fact, I supervised the installation of the first FM station to come on the air in Philadelphia, W69PH. It was on the 16th floor of 1616 Walnut Street and it was twice too big to get in the elevator. They had to hacksaw it down the middle and re-splice all the wires so they could get it in the elevator. The best story about that transmitter was the first day we put it on the air. The assistant chief engineer, George Lewis and I were out drinking wine together and decided we were going to be the first to go on the air. It was possible because WFIL, a major competitor, was missing their power transformer for the final stage, and we were only missing an antenna. So he and I went up on Sunday morning and jury rigged an antenna with copper tubing and got on the air. We could only run at 5 kilowatts because the transmission lines sparked over at higher powers. I can still remember looking across the street at the transmitter and seeing the glow at the end of the dipole. There was a blue ball of flame on each end and there were puddles of copper on the roof below.
TAYLOR: We did some work with WIBG when I was with Paul Godley. Was that an open wire line? Was that one of these 6 wire transmission lines?
SIMONS: No. WIBG when I knew it was in a basement of a church in Elkins Park. And then they moved the transmitter site … I don’t know where.
TAYLOR: That’s later, then.
SIMONS: Yes. Also, at WCAU I supervised the installation of the console of the 50 kilowatt transmitter which is still at Moorestown, New Jersey. So, in December 1941 war came along. I had a small child and a wife and I needed to do something. I preferred not be drafted so I found out my old friends at RCA needed radar field engineers and I got the job without hardly asking. That was a challenging job and I did accomplish quite a bit. One of the best things I did was a schematic diagram to replace a big fat instruction book issued by the Navy. We were given special permission to put it on cloth so that a young man could carry this schematic in his back pocket. Even though it was marked CONFIDENTIAL, he was allowed to carry it so he could see what he was doing when he was fixing the radar.
TAYLOR: Just as an insert at this point, this schematic diagram is on a sheet probably 11 inches high by probably 40 inches long, accordion pleated to put it back into an 8 1/2 by 11 inch book.
SIMONS: In the original book all the plugs and sockets were shown as round circles with little round circles in them and the wires would disappear on one page and show up on another page. The young man would go quietly blind trying to find his way around. On our schematic we drew it all out in straight lines and marked the pin numbers on all the plugs and we even put alignment information and everything else he needed to know all on the one sheet. None of this would have been possible without the beautiful cooperation of my friend the draftsman, Kalin, who was the best draftsman I ever worked with. He simply did a beautiful job.
One of the other things that came along was a book which I originally wrote for the RCA service company but which was picked up by the Navy. It was done originally on about a 3 x 5 format and the Navy liked it so much they asked me to expand it a little. It was on the U.S. Navy synchros which at that time were a great mystery to the RCA service engineers and I tried to break open the mystery by explaining how synchros worked and what they did and how to adjust them and troubleshoot them.
TAYLOR: So you say this is how you got into your ability to teach students–train them?
SIMONS: This is where it started.
TAYLOR: We have seen that through part of your career that I know something about anyway.
SIMONS: There’s a little more along those lines. I think that will be my next point.
SIMONS: Some time early in the war, the Signal Corps asked RCA to set up a school to train young people as technicians on the APN-1 altimeter and the SA-1 aircraft radar. Because I had done some early teaching on television, the boss picked me out to be chief instructor for that school and we ran the school for something more than a year and turned out several thousand students. We had a class every six weeks. I had the opportunity to work out some ideas on education which incidentally worked out extremely well; namely, the fact that the right way to teach is to first show the student whatever is happening and then put him in a laboratory and have him make it happen for himself.
This we did for a year and a half with great success. We had tremendous enthusiasm from the classes we trained. They thought the school was good and, in fact, every class, as it graduated, gave the faculty a present. I still have several of those presents around. One of them was a very nice picture of a heron which burned up in my house, which I will tell you later. The other was a book on microwaves which I still have and on the back it says, presented by the class of so and so to the faculty. This was a very wonderful learning experience for me because giving the same lecture over and over again every six weeks, you got to give it pretty well.
I had one that I remember particularly that taught me as much about high frequencies as it did the students. We had lecher wires about six feet long and a sliding 7 watt bulb that moved back and forth to show where the minimums/maximums were and that was very educational. We also had a 9 inch oscilloscope and did a great deal of discussion about wave forms and so on.
TAYLOR: Let me step in here and say that “lecher” is spelled l-e-c-h-e-r and I wonder how many people who will listen to this or read it would know what lecher wires are.
SIMONS: There is another meaning to the same word spelled the same way.
TAYLOR: That is exactly right.
SIMONS: The lecher wires we used were completely clean.
SIMONS: Now, this experience with the school impressed me so much that a little later on I made a very fundamental decision. We are talking now about the years around 1942-43. After the war, I continued with RCA service company and my assignment for about a year was to build what was called a “simulator.” Actually, we called it the “hot box” but it was the same thing. It contained everything it took to adjust a television receiver without an air signal. In those days, in the late ’40s and early ’50s there were no air signals most of the time. So if you wanted to get a set adjusted for the right synch and the right horizontal, centering and so on, you needed a source. So I designed and built a box about 4″ x 8″ x 6″, a standard RCA test equipment box, a complete synch generator with about fifteen 6J6 tubes in it. You could make toast on the side of the box. But it worked and you could adjust a receiver with it. Anyway, a little later, in 1946, I was approached by a rather portly gentleman from Kansas City whose name was Jerry Taylor. Jerry is the man you used to see in the ads in Popular Mechanics which said, “Come to me and I will turn you into an electronic technician.”
He had a trade school, a very profitable trade school, in Kansas City. He convinced me to come to Kansas City and teach there. I went primarily because I enjoyed the Signal Corps school experience so much. Also, when I got there I discovered that I was able to put into effect all of the principles that I used at the RCA Signal Corps school. We had breadboards in each laboratory, one for each student with snaps on them, so that he could put together the various circuits we talked about. We had similar breadboards in the lecture room. We had a 9 inch oscilloscope. We did all the things we did in the Signal Corps school only on a larger scale. I designed and built ten oscilloscopes for that school and enjoyed the whole experience immensely. The other thing that happened after a couple of years there, Jerry said, “How would you like to be a chief engineer?” And I said, “Of what?” And he said, “Of television for KMBC.” So I became chief engineer of KMBC and Jerry TAYLOR: was on their board of directors. He had the mistaken idea, or at least it turned out to be mistaken, that it was cheaper to build equipment than it was to buy it.
So I had brought with me, from RCA, instruction books and schematic diagrams of all the television equipment they sold. Jerry had me build this stuff from scratch with a crew of ten men. We worked for about a year with a crew of ten men, designing and building an entire studio full of equipment that might have worked, but we never had time to check it out. At the end of the year, we had spent about $120,000 which is just about what it would have cost to buy the equipment from RCA. I think that was a little less. Anyway, that got to be a little boring, particularly the fact that the whole deal was based on a profit-sharing program–tremendous amount of money from the profit-sharing program. Only somehow or other, year after year, we did not make any profits and I since learned to believe that Jerry TAYLOR:’s salary had an increment that was adjusted to cover whatever profits there might have been.
Anyway, at the end of three years, we were fed up with that and I was talked into going to Buffalo. I did not know about Buffalo weather or I would never have gone, but for a friend, H. R. Shar, who was a very good design engineer and responsible for the horizontal deflection system on the first RCA commercial set. I worked there in advanced development. This relates to what is coming later because my job in advanced development at Sylvania in Buffalo was checking tuners. Among other tuners that I checked was the Dumont induct tuner which used a Mallory piece, and that was really the basis around which we later built the 704. But a year of Buffalo was enough. At the end of the year my wife and I decided we wanted to go home. So we moved back into Pennsylvania.
TAYLOR: At Buffalo was a receiver manufacturer, Sylvania?
SIMONS: Yes, Sylvania television receivers. Instead of making a living, I decided to go into partnership with my cousin and we were going to build oscilloscopes. We spent a year and a total of $2,500 between us getting a working prototype oscilloscope at which point we lost our nerve and did not borrow the money to put it into production. So it died right there and I went to town looking for a job. I first went to see Britt Chance, for whom I had worked during my college years and he was in charge, at that time, of the Johnson Foundation studying heart machinery, exploring heart problems at the University of Pennsylvania. He offered me a job but it wasn’t enough to feed my family. So, I went back to WCAU to see if they could offer me a job. The chief engineer of WCAU, Jack Leitch, said, “We don’t need you but someone was in here yesterday who obviously needs some help.” And I said, “Who would that be?” He said, “It is a little outfit called Jerrold. They were in here yesterday putting in some television repeater equipment for us and they didn’t seem to know what they were doing. I suggest you go see them.” So I waltzed up to 401 North Broad and asked Mr. Shapp if I could speak with him and he said I could. So I just went in and sat right down across from Mr. Shapp and said, “I am a consulting engineer with extensive RF experience and I wonder if you could use my services.” He said, “No! We never use consultants.” Which was not completely true because he was using Kirk at that time. But in any case he said that we never use consultants. So I said, “I’ll tell you what I will do, Milt. I am out of work. Give me any old project you’ve got and I’ll take it home and if you like what I do, we can talk about it. Otherwise, we shake hands as friends.” So he says, “That sounds like a good deal.” So he gave me a high-to-low converter and he said, “We need a high-to-low converter.” I took it home and two weeks later I brought in a working model and that’s where it all started.
TAYLOR: What did he give you? Any kind of a model or just the idea?
SIMONS: Just the idea. I had the tubes and parts from our oscilloscope work.
TAYLOR: You mentioned Kirk earlier. This is Don Kirk, I assume.
SIMONS: Yes. At that time … Well, perhaps I could go back now. I got into the picture in ’51 but Jerrold started in ’48.
TAYLOR: Yes I would like to get the background on …
SIMONS: There’s a piece I would like to get for you.
TAYLOR: All right. We will stop again. Ken has handed me a model of a TV/FM booster dated March 1948 and I will read for the record the label on the top of this device. It is called a TV/FM booster. This is one of twenty-five original prototypes built by H. Arbeiter before producing the production model. This model uses the resistance line cord but the production model used a transformer. Also a fine tuner was added. The device has a knob and a switch and two sets of antenna terminals, 300 ohm antenna terminals. The box is 6″ x 4″ x 4″.
SIMONS: My story about the beginning of Jerrold is, of course, second-hand but I will tell it for what it is worth. As I understand, Shapp and Arbeiter got together in a basement under the street level on North Fifth Street. They began designing a booster. The idea of the booster being that people, over the mountains in the coal country of Pennsylvania, were unable to get reception and perhaps with the booster they would get more gain and get reception. So Arbeiter primarily designed a one-stage, I believe it was a 6AK5 which had quite high gain and was tunable to any of the TV channels. It had 300 ohm ribbon input and output and Arbeiter built twenty-five of these and more or less did field testing with them and they went into production.
The weakness of the design, of course, was that if the input and output cables came close together it oscillated and this was a perpetual problem. Hank told me that on one occasion–after they had moved into bigger quarters, and I can’t tell you what building. There was an elevator in the building anyway. They came in one morning to find that the entire anteroom next to the elevator was filled with boxes which were converters that had come back. Out of 20,000 converters or boosters shipped, 10,000 came back. But it was enough to get Jerrold launched and from there they went into amplifiers for apartment houses.
TAYLOR: This was 1948 the boosters …
TAYLOR: No, 1949. Shapp felt that he needed more electronic capability and he discovered rather, in fact, he had hired a very expensive professional engineer from the Washington area. I do not know his name but the engineer came through with absolutely marvelous results, designing amplifier strips for these apartment houses. On one occasion Milt was visiting him and there was some question about the strip and the engineer disappeared in the back room to consult the young man who was there whose name was Donald Kirk. Donald Kirk was the guy who was doing the work and the other guy was the front man.
Kirk was an officer in the Navy and was working during his weekend hours. He lived in Bethesda, Maryland, and he had a shop in his backyard. So Shapp very quickly hired him out from under the front man and Kirk became a regular consultant and designed all the early Jerrold equipment except for what Arbeiter did.
TAYLOR: Is that basically 1949 when that took place?
TAYLOR: What’s Arbeiter’s background? Do you have any knowledge of that?
SIMONS: I don’t. I have regular communication with his widow and I can get a story on that.
TAYLOR: Just curiosity at this point.
SIMONS: I am quite sure he had a trade school education in electronics.
TAYLOR: Now, Milt was an engineer.
SIMONS: Milt was a graduate engineer; he had Tau Beta Pi and everything.
TAYLOR: Did he go to the Moore School also? You don’t know?
SIMONS: No. I don’t know. I think somewhere in Manhattan. It has always been one of the wonderful mysteries to life as to why a Bronx Jewish lady would give her son the middle name of Jerrold. But she did.
Anyway, between Kirk and Hank they did quite a good job of designing equipment that would play. Kirk made a few fundamental mistakes and I am sure that any old timers who remember the power supply that constantly blew up the VR 150s because he did not recognize the fact that in order to regulate voltage you have to have some there to regulate, so he pushed the situation. But at one point I tried redesigning it, but that’s another story.
TAYLOR: These were channel amplifiers that they were building?
SIMONS: They were, yes. Maybe five tube, five stage, single tuned amplifier. They were peaked on the video carrier and had no bandwidth to mention. I am quite sure they were called C-strips, along with C-fittings.
TAYLOR: “C.” “C” as in Charley.
SIMONS: Yes. I am not about to explain the “W”. Along with the amplifiers, obviously, somebody, and I really don’t know who, designed the fittings, the chassis fittings and the cable fittings, and they were the so-called “C” fittings and I do not know where the “C” came from. [Note: Eric Winston says “C” stood for “connector.”] But, they had one fundamental disadvantage which was that their characteristic impedance was about 30 ohms and they represented lumps in the cable wherever they were used. So sometime in ’49, and you can check me on this, Bob Tarlton used these strips to rig up a several stage system involving a number of drop-offs and Shapp had already had Arbeiter, or Kirk, or whoever, design various kinds of taps. A tap consisted of three “C” fittings in an aluminum block with a resistor connected, two of them connected together and a resistor to the third. This was to tap down the signal for the customer.
Along the way Shapp discovered – now if I can think of the term he used, this was called “Multel” meaning multiple television outlets – Multel Systems. Somewhere along the way he discovered that a capacitor had lower reactance at high frequency and this meant that he could flatten the response and get away from the cable loss and give the customer the same level on all channels.
TAYLOR: Did they put capacitors in the aluminum blocks?
SIMONS: They used the same aluminum blocks with the same 30 ohm fittings. They then used small capacitors which worked much better than the resistors.
TAYLOR: With the 30 ohm fittings and the resistor tap, you had all kinds of unusual things there, let’s say.
SIMONS: Just after a dozen of taps or so you did not have any signal left. Anyway, it was the C-fitting and the capacitor tap and the single tuned amplifier that Bob Tarlton used to establish the first system.
TAYLOR: That was in Lansford, Pennsylvania?
SIMONS: Yes. The first Jerrold system. I won’t get into that because I know nothing about the other systems. Right away, almost immediately. Tarlton discovered, and I am quite sure it was Tarlton, that these things did not cascade. After three amplifiers, you did not have any picture left because the bandwidth had gotten so small, and somebody, and again I don’t know who, probably Kirk, discovered that all he had to do was detune some of the stages and it became flat and you got the pictures. So the W-strip was, as far as I know, the same strip, same tube, same wiring, except that it was stagger tuned and stagger tuning was not perfect. When the gain changed, it wobbled all over the place but it was good enough to get by and it got the early systems started.
But there were two or three major problems staring us in the face at the time I got into the act. That is, the C-fitting, the crazy behavior in the W-strips with the gain variation and the fact that there were a whole lot of things needed that they did not have. So, I can remember … Well, perhaps, I should first say where it was that all of this started from my standpoint because it actually has a bearing on what happened later.
I had grown up in this little town of Bryn Athyn and at the time of our story I was living in an old farmhouse along the creek just outside of Bryn Athyn and I found a gentleman in the town who owned a stained glass factory and his second floor, the floor directly over the glass oven, was not occupied. So he rented it to me for $25 a month and I established my own concern there. This was not a Jerrold operation. Jerrold paid me by the week. As I remember, it was $125 per week for half-time. But within a few months after I started, I had a list of projects that filled a page. There were so many things that needed to be done. We needed to have a good trap that would take out interfering signals; we needed to have a field strength meter. There were a lot of things we needed. So, I did what I could.
Now the field strength meter story starts back a ways in the story we are talking about because I actually built a field strength meter for RCA in 1940 and, don’t laugh, it was truck portable.
TAYLOR: I laughed.
SIMONS: It consisted of a standard 9 inch TV receiver. It was called then a TRK-9, with a 110 volt power supply. This was mounted in two boxes. I supervised having boxes made at the cabinet factory; they were painted gray and I remember taking one of them into the attic room where I lived in my mother’s house in Bryn Athyn and receiving the first picture that was ever received in that town from New York.
But anyway, on the top of this receiver box there was a meter to measure the voltage across the video detector and it wasn’t calibrated in micro-volts but I think, perhaps, you can call it a field strength meter. Caywood Cooley, who was one of the major players when I got into the act in 1951, did something similar.
TAYLOR: He was already with Jerrold at that time?
SIMONS: Yes, I think he was. I think he had been with Philco, I am not sure. But anyway, he had designed and built a field strength meter using, I can’t remember the make, probably a Philco, using a Philco receiver with a meter similarly across the end, no automatic level controls, calibratable and for the life of me I do not know to what degree it was calibrated. In any case, it gave a reading.
But, there was obvious need for something smaller and more portable. So one of the first projects that was given to me was to design a field strength meter. I had worked, as I said before, in the advanced development department of Sylvania on tuners and I had strong opinions as to which tuners were good and which tuners were not good.
In this particular case, I knew that, in the long run, cable was not going to be satisfied with just the two bands–low band and high band. It was almost inevitable, although it was pretty well in the future. It was almost inevitable the midband would show up. So any kind of a switched tuner was out of the question. So I fastened on the Mallory Induct tuner as being the best basis for a field strength meter because (a) you could tune it to any frequency you like and (b) it was good electrically. Whoever designed that Mallory Induct tuner did an amazing job of engineering because anybody who has been in electronics or electricity knows that contacts never work, particularly sliding contacts, and the Mallory Induct tuner is a sliding contact which runs on a spiral track. I have one in the basement that is forty-some years old and still makes good contact. An amazing job of design.
TAYLOR: I think it is very significant that in 1951, I think you are talking about, you anticipated that midband would inevitably come to pass. I think that is a very significant observation, perceptiveness at that time.
SIMONS: Yes, 1951. At the end of this discussion I hope to give you my idea where we would be ten years from now. I tend to think like that. It’s not prophecy; it’s just common sense.
SIMONS: I don’t know … Well, this is as good a time as any to tell the story. I have had the experience throughout the years of cable that nobody else seems to understand what was coming. When they had three channels up in the hills, and we suggested five channels, when Vic Nicholson discovered that you could put channels in between the other channels without getting into trouble, all the customers said we don’t want any more. We’ve got enough. We’ve got CBS, ABC and NBC. That’s all our customers want; don’t bother. Don’t bother, we don’t need twelve channels. What will we ever do with twelve channels? And it’s been that way since the beginning of time.
I stood up at a convention somewhere around 1968 and said, “We now have twenty channels. There’s no reason at all why we can’t have forty. We have the amplifiers that will do it. You can have eighty if you want them.” At that time there was no interest at all. Now we are talking gigahertz capacity and 150 channels. In my opinion, that’s completely inadequate, but I’ll go into that later.
End of Tape 1, Side A
Start Tape 1, Side B
TAYLOR: I asked a question about Vic Nicholson. Victor is his name. We all know him as Vic. I asked when did he come into the Jerrold operation.
SIMONS: I don’t know but I do know this. I have given you the rundown that Kirk dreamed it up; I made it work; Arbeiter put it in production and Shapp cracked the whip. I left out Vic Nicholson, who took it out in the field and made it work. He’s the field engineer, par excellence, cable owes a great deal to Vic.
TAYLOR: That’s the way I experienced Vic.
SIMONS: Right. He was very good on feeding back information. He would report back whatever the field problems were.
Anyway, just to close out the 704, I have no clear recollection and my notebooks don’t show it, but I am quite sure that it took less than three years to design and get that thing into production. I will never forget the condition in which I took it down to Hank Arbeiter. At that time Hank and Milt lived in a place on North Sixth Street. This was a real honest to goodness building above the street level. In the back room there were four girls putting things together; in the front room there was a secretary and Milt, and in the side room there was Hank Arbeiter and his engineering department.
TAYLOR: You’re talking now about 1952 or thereabouts?
SIMONS: No, 1953.
SIMONS: I think 1953 would be the year, and I would like to get this on record, 1953 was the year Milt asked me to come into his office in that building, and he said, “How much did I pay you this year?” I said, “About $2,500.” He said, “Well, will you please send me another bill for the same amount. I would like to double your pay.” I think this is some indication of what kind of guy Milt was.
Anyway, on the 704, the material of choice in my laboratory, out here in Bryn Athyn, was sheet copper like you use for flashing on the roof. The reason was its availability locally. I had built the 704, the original prototype model, with the sheet copper chassis, rather badly bent. I didn’t even have a metal-bending brake, it was bent with pliers, it used a Dumont tuner and it was battery operated; it had a vibrator power supply with a 6 volt battery, regular size storage battery which was slung underneath with a webbing strap. You could hardly lift the whole affair but it worked.
And, this is what I gave to Hank Arbeiter and this is where the 704 came from. You can judge from that how much contribution to the final product was Arbeiter and how much was Simons. All I gave him was essentially the schematic and a working lash-up; he did everything else.
TAYLOR: Where did the number come from?
SIMONS: The 704–I haven’t the vaguest idea. It meant nothing.
TAYLOR: Was there an “A” version?
SIMONS: There was an “A”.
TAYLOR: Was that the copper sheath one?
SIMONS: No! Oh, no! The “A” was perfectly respectable–same box. In fact, I don’t remember the change that made it “B”. It was fairly a major change but I don’t remember what it was. Might have changed the intermediate frequency.
TAYLOR: Design changes?
SIMONS: Yes. I think so.
Since we are at the point of sheet metal I should introduce another player in this set of characters. There was a gentleman named Dalck Feith, who did all the sheet metal work for Milt in the early days, in fact, for most of the period Milt was associated with Jerrold. Feith was quite a unique individual. He lives near here in Elkins Park. Again the story is second-hand, but he told me or somebody told me that he came from one of the central European countries and he was a sailor. And, when they were thirty-five miles off the Florida coast, he jumped ship and swam ashore. Now probably it was twelve miles. But, anyway…
TAYLOR: Little exaggeration, maybe.
SIMONS: Starting from absolute scratch, he built up an empire, a very successful sheet metal business. And, in fact, he made that prototype that I showed you of the scope downstairs before I met Milt. He did all of Jerrold’s metal work and maybe to jump ahead just a little bit, he built the first laboratory building that Jerrold occupied on Byberry Road.
TAYLOR: So you knew Feith then, before you knew Milt?
TAYLOR: Interesting. He was just a contractor selling. When Milt needed sheet metal work, he would go to Dalck.
SIMONS: Yes. Well, the relationship rapidly became tighter than that because Milt always had a money problem. Feith had money and saw fit to lend money to Milt on Thursdays so he could meet the payroll on Fridays. It was that kind of thing.
TAYLOR: We are back on record and Ken has shown me a schematic. What is this
a schematic of?
SIMONS: This is an amplifier presumably the beginning of a broadband system that Bill Felcher and I developed in the … I have already described the glass factory on tape, haven’t I?
TAYLOR: Yes. No. I am not sure.
SIMONS: Maybe we better go back over that.
TAYLOR: Describe that again.
SIMONS: I rented space on the second floor of a stained glass factory in Bryn Athyn which was my first lab where I worked for Jerrold and that was where we made the first A-27 attenuator, which I will get to in a little while. And, one of the things we did there, Felcher and I developed a system which was based on very, very elaborate interstage filters, so that the gain was very high considering the bandwidth and we chose to run from 34 to 88 MHz. And, after we had this all built we had the good sense to put pictures through it and discovered second order effects, i.e., that twice 34 is 68, in other words, the 34-88 doesn’t work; it’s a bad choice.
And, thank goodness, we never got beyond the prototype stage because it could have been very expensive to put this into production and discover the problem afterwards.
TAYLOR: These were m-derived bandpass filters?
SIMONS: Yes, m-derived. Very, very sharp, completely impractical design. This was about in the same period when I designed another impractical amplifier that was put into production. This was the split band amplifier, the JR and it was on paper and in my laboratory it was a beautiful little amplifier. It used a staggered tuning arrangement copied from Blonder-Tongue. Blonder-Tongue had an amplifier production which Ben Tongue had designed where he had a resonant circuit in the high band and a resonant circuit in the low band, both on the same vacuum tube and I essentially copied that in the JR. There were no tuning adjustments; you would change the coupling between stages by pushing the coils closer together and you tuned them by squeezing the turns. Well, the girls on the production line found doing this was slightly arduous. They did not like this particular amplifier at all. To help, I designed the first wideband sweep. Not, the first, excuse me. We had a Kay-Megasweep which was a very wide band.
TAYLOR: That’s K-A-Y?
SIMONS: Yes. K-A-Y. It used a klystron left over from World War II and the beat frequency between two of these klystrons produced a wideband sweep. It had many advantages and some disadvantages but we did use it. I redesigned it from the standpoint of the sweeping voltage. And, we did it but it was not suitable for the factory. For the factory, I built a wideband sweep that consisted of two butterfly capacitors which had ball bearings, again left over from the war, and each one had an oscillator. So you had a high band oscillator and a low band oscillator, each of them being swept at the speed of the motor, and the motor was synchronous for sixty cycles. So you used sixty cycles for deflection. And, to change from high to low band, there was a switch commutator on the shaft which switched from high band to low band. The girls saw on the screen the high band response and the low band response super imposed on each other. That was used for several years in the factory and I think it made clear to all of us that we needed a broadband sweep, which came later on.
Now back to the attenuator. It was clear from the beginning that some kind of variable attenuator was needed in our test set ups. And, I don’t remember exactly why or how it was my assignment and I was to do it. So my partner, who had been in the partnership in the development of the oscilloscope design made the drawings of the metal work and I worked out the design of the electrical part of it and between us we designed the A-72.
TAYLOR: That’s the device you brought up and put on the table?
TAYLOR: Did Feith do the metal work for that?
SIMONS: Feith did the metal work; and the switches, I think, were all mine, I’m not quite sure. They were ordinary slide switches, but the delightful and remarkable part about the attenuator all the resistors were within 1 percent of being what they were supposed to be. The way we achieved that was to use a Dremel grinder and grind a notch in the resistor. The Allen-Bradley people who sold us the resistors were absolutely horrified. But I must say that there are many of these attenuators, like the one on the table in front of us, that have been around for twenty years and still work fine.
TAYLOR: This development was 1952?
SIMONS: 1952. Now, the interesting part about it was that I bought materials and bought the labor and sold these attenuators to Shapp. The labor consisted of one young man. He was a very fine young man, John Austin, who passed away about a year ago now. But, he worked for Jerrold up until the time he died. He was always known as a very dependable, very hard working young man, and he spent, I would say, pretty close to a year grinding the resistors. It got to where there was a pile of resistor dust several inches deep on the floor under his bench. But, the attenuators worked and people liked them and Milt sold a lot of them. The interesting part is that I made a lot of money because I bought the metal work from Feith, and metal work, resistors and John Austin altogether cost me $7 per attenuator. So I sold them to Milt for $15 and Milt sold them to the trade for $63.50.
TAYLOR: That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
TAYLOR: Incidentally, the A-72 that Ken has shown me looks very much like A-72s that were on the market not too many years ago. It’s not a cast housing. It’s a sheet metal housing, but there are a lot of those still around. I see them every now and then. It has decal lettering on, I assume that’s decal lettering, or maybe it’s silk screen, probably silk screen.
SIMONS: Feith did it, I don’t know.
TAYLOR: But, it’s a very nice piece, screws together, F-connectors on each end. We will deal with the F-connectors later.
SIMONS: I should say that the Jerrold factory took over production of these for obvious reasons. Milt could not afford that extra $7.50 that came to me. So they took it over and when they did, they used the same drawings that my partner had drawn like ten years after the original.
TAYLOR: There’s an interesting question in my mind. This is an A-72 and I presume this has to do with 72 ohms.
SIMONS: Well, the Navy unfortunately, when they got out their list of standards on cable, gave RG59U a 72 ohm characteristic impedance. They did not know anything about television; they did not know anything about 300 ohms and all that jazz. So, it was only later when you have to have 300 divided by four that we came to 75 ohms.
TAYLOR: The 72, did that come from the physical characteristics of an antenna?
SIMONS: Just the accidental characteristic of a particular … If you look in the RG catalog of cables, there are some seventy-two; there are some seventy-five; there are some whatever. They weren’t too fussy about impedance. Didn’t much matter when you are feeding a radar antenna.
TAYLOR: There are a lot of tricks they play with that, even today. Interesting.
SIMONS: I think, perhaps, this would be a good time to drag in the directional coupler. You had some questions about that. If you cut off a minute, I’ll go and get the stuff.
I am producing here pictures of the glass house. This is the window of our shop. Taken recently, the place has been converted to apartments, but that’s where we worked and we worked there for, I think, two years. In the summertime, with the glass furnace below, it was, you can imagine, rather warm. And, there was a fan up in the peak of the roof and Mike Jeffers will laugh for you, if you tell him the story because he remembers, when we came in the mornings there would always be a smell in the place. So somebody remembered, “Oh, we didn’t start the fan.” The starting winding was burned out; you had to go up and spin it; otherwise it would smoke. And, there were no screens; the wasps flew in and out; it was fairly primitive.
This is called the Alden home. That’s my partner’s mother’s home.
TAYLOR: You had a lab here.
SIMONS: Yeah! In the basement of the Alden home.
TAYLOR: That’s the basement of the Alden home.
SIMONS: And, about the first two months for Jerrold. You can have these by the way. I don’t need them. In fact, if you want copies for yourself …
TAYLOR: That would have been in ’51 then?
SIMONS: Yeah! I assume this is probably ’52.
TAYLOR: Then, the other one is …
SIMONS: ’52. I think maybe on this one … This is in the glass house. I think I could make some comments about that picture; it will be worth it.
TAYLOR: All right!
SIMONS: I don’t think you need to include this, it’s the atmosphere …
TAYLOR: Okay. Do you want to comment about this?
SIMONS: Why don’t I start with the Alden place.
TAYLOR: All right. Ken is going to speak about the Alden house and various places he had laboratories.
SIMONS: I have included a picture of a white house on Alden Road in Bryn Athyn. Alden Road is named after my grandfather who lived there and in this case, his son, Bill Alden, had a son, who was my cousin Bill and my partner in the oscilloscope venture. His mother allowed us the use of their basement to have a shop in which I did my first work for Jerrold. Mrs. Alden, Auntie Dot as we knew her, had a custom which carried through long after we left there. In the morning around 10 o’clock, she would call down the stairs, “It’s time for coffee.” We would go upstairs and have coffee or coffee and cinnamon buns, and I would say for fifteen or twenty years thereafter, it was a custom at Jerrold to break for morning coffee with donuts or cinnamon buns. That’s the way it started.
Anyway, from there we very quickly moved into the glass factory which I have already referred to which was owned by a gentleman known as Oliver Smith. He did some of the stained glass for the Washington National Cathedral and other places. Bryn Athyn, incidentally, is somewhat a home for stained glass artists because there is a cathedral there and when it was built, there was a lot of stained glass produced. I have also included a picture of me at work in the glass factory lab and, among other things, in the picture there is the nine inch oscilloscope.
It amused many of my fellow workers that I needed a nine inch oscilloscope. It wasn’t bad vision; I think it was actually pride because I had designed and built that scope when I was in Buffalo. I was planning to use it this area for teaching purposes but it never got used that way. But, in the picture, there are several other things that are significant. Unless I am very much mistaken, the piece that I am working on is part of the 704 field strength meter but to the left of the picture, there is a square box with a knob on the front behind the attenuator which is the sweep generator that I was using at that time and there is a significant point there that the wobulator in that sweep is the same one that was in the radar that I taught at the Signal Corps School. The ATN-1 wobulator was available surplus for a number of years after the war and I built that sweep around it. In fact, it is a combination of the Mallory induct tuner and the APN Wobulator. The panel in the top middle to the left of the picture has a helipot dial on it and actually embodies a way of keying in a reference signal to produce a line on a scope almost exactly like the flicker-dicker which we used later on. In this case, the flicker-dickering was done at low frequency. I keyed in a reference signal into the detector at 10 kilohertz at the same time shutting off the sweep and that 10 kilohertz signal was measurable on an ordinary voltmeter so I could measure voltage that way. As far as I know, that was a unique approach to the problem. Anyway, that will do for that picture.
Now the next one in line is a picture of the place we moved to in Southampton, Pennsylvania, which is about six miles north of Bryn Athyn. The logic involved here is that Don Kirk by that time had decided that he had enough of the Navy and he resigned and moved into a house in Holland, Pennsylvania, which is somewhat north of Southampton. And Hank Arbeiter lived in Cornwell Heights, which is east of Southampton and I lived in Bryn Athyn which is south of Southampton. We decided that this was a good central point and we found a four-car garage we could rent. And, for the first time in my connection with Jerrold, I became an employee as contrasted with consulting engineer and we all moved in together.
TAYLOR: Now what’s the date of this?
SIMONS: This would have been about ’55.
TAYLOR: ’55. Incidentally, Bryn Athyn is a Welsh term.
SIMONS: A Welsh name.
TAYLOR: This is Southampton.
SIMONS: The young lady … This is what you call serendipity. I had my camera all set up to take pictures of the building and the door opens and out comes a handsome young lady with the dog.
TAYLOR: That was tough to have anything like that spoil the picture. Who’s the lady? Was she anybody you knew?
SIMONS: No, no. Just came along at the right time.
TAYLOR: You rented … This is a house though?
SIMONS: No. A four-car garage.
TAYLOR: Just a four-car garage?
SIMONS: We had the second floor. It was very crowded.
TAYLOR: It’s only one garage door showing on this picture; that’s why I was puzzled.
SIMONS: Well, I could be mistaken on the four car or in the meantime they could have boxed it in.
TAYLOR: That’s possible.
SIMONS: There were several things that happened there which are worth remembering. I know that towards the end of our stay at the four-car garage–we were there for about a year–and we were trying to convince Milt that we should have more space. He came out on an inspection tour to see how we were doing and it was planned ahead of time, when he was in the room, everybody got out his chair and stuck his butt on the aisle, so that the place would seem as crowded as possible. And eventually it worked. We moved out later.
But the other story which may seem a little off the wall. There is always somebody in the group who picks up all the loose ends, and in our case, it was Henry Panetta. Henry Panetta was a very hard working honest-type character who did everything. He swept the floor; he brought in the sticky buns; he answered the phones; he was our purchasing agent. He did everything the engineers didn’t. There were about five engineers. So all of us were working one day and we were gabbing away and so suddenly there was one of those breaks in conversation where nobody is saying anything and we are listening. There’s Henry Panetta on the phone. He is saying, “I know that’s what we ordered and that’s what we got but it’s not what we wanted.” But we really had a good time there. It was chummy, small group and working very hard. We knew where we were going and were working very hard to get there.
TAYLOR: This building, the second floor, was actually rented by Jerrold Electronics by that time?
SIMONS: Yes, at that time.
TAYLOR: And you became an employee at that time.
SIMONS: That’s unfortunately without an adequate contract. But, one of the things we worked on there, the one that stands out most clearly in my mind was named by Kirk. I think a great many of the early terminology was developed by Kirk. He had a very keen ear and a good sense of humor. So there was a requirement in Dubuque, Iowa, for a twelve, I don’t remember how many channels, I think it was twelve, but anyway, a multi-channel, I think it was a twelve-channel system. No, it was twelve miles, a five-channel system, twelve miles long and with the techniques available to us at that time, you could not go twelve miles. Amplifiers were not good enough; cables were not good enough.
So Kirk came up with the idea of using a band from 1 to 7 megahertz and using a separate cable for each channel. And, because 1 to 7 is very close to video, he called it NQV and the name caught on right away. Not Quite Video was certainly very descriptive and preliminary tests indicated that there was no reason why not. We were able to make converters that would convert down to NQV and back up again and the cable loss was very, very low. We did have quite a bit of trouble with tilt. You had to have good equalizers but generally speaking the concept was good. Of course, the telephone company has been doing this for many years. But the big advantage of NQV against video is that if you are going to transmit video, you have to somehow handle the very low frequency end and yet stay away from sixty cycles and so on as for instance in the AT&T L-3 system.
And, one of the things I have not mentioned up to now, but certainly needs to be mentioned, is that in the early days of cable we relied very, very heavily on everything we put our hands on that came from the telephone company because it was true that all of the problems we had, had been encountered in 1922, ’23 and ’25 by the telephone people. We needed hybrids and we needed equalizers and we needed all of the things that they had already done, except we could not do them quite as rapidly, but we certainly learned. In fact, I still have upstairs copies of the telephone company’s instructions, and engineering material. Anyway, on NQV, the story is interesting because it shows how no matter how good your engineering is it may not work out. Kirk designed and built the amplifiers which worked from 1 to 7 MHz and the automatic level control and everything else that it took. We discussed the question of cross-talk between cables and he and I went out next to the garage at Southampton and laid out RG-59 cables adjacent to each other and measured the cross-talk over a stretch of 100 feet or so and discovered that it was too much. Then Kirk decided what would solve the problem was what he called HLD. HLD is High Loss Dirt. You bury the cables so that there is dirt between them and the cross-talk goes down. He was absolutely right.
And, I don’t think we actually tested this; I think we simply took it on faith. But, if they were spaced a foot apart in a trench, the cross-talk probably would have been negligible.
Anyway, all of this went into the production stage. We made all the amplifiers; shipped them all out to Dubuque. But, when it came to putting them in, they discovered there was no HLD out in Dubuque. All they had were rocks and they refused to dig the necessary trenches. So they wound up lashing the five cables together on the telegraph pole.
TAYLOR: Were these RG-59 cables?
SIMONS: RG-59, no. I think RG-11.
TAYLOR: RG-11, probably.
SIMONS: Anyway, it almost worked fine. The pictures were beautiful, except the cross-talk was horrendous. The various channels were mixed up with each other. As we knew perfectly well, we could have told them ahead of time they would be under those conditions. So then Kirk went out there. I guess he spent a couple of days looking at how bad the pictures were and he came back and designed a 5 x 5 matrix with “R,” “L” and “C” between each pair, between the center conductor of each cable to balance out the cross-talk. Kirk called the downtown location the “Hub,” so the cross-talk was “Hubbub” and his matrix solution was the “dehubbuber.” It worked just beautifully. He went out there and showed that by actually getting the “dehubbuber” properly diddled, you got perfectly clean pictures. But, then it rained and the whole thing fell apart.
TAYLOR: So, what kind of connectors were you using on that RG-11 at that time?
SIMONS: I’m not sure but I think Winston was in the act by then. I think we had special connectors. I have some …
TAYLOR: That’s Eric Winston that Ken has mentioned here.
SIMONS: Eric Winston was the man single-handedly responsible for a number of things. The success of the 900 sweep goes partly to him; the F-connector he did. At one time I owned the original model shop F-connector which was made out of brass by hand and I kept carrying it around in my pocket to show to people and I lost it. But, without Winston, we could not do it.
TAYLOR: Are you going to talk at some point about the series of connectors with “C” and the “F”?
SIMONS: Yes, I asked Winston. “C” stood for “connector” and “F” stood for “fitting.” Well, we haven’t quite moved into the lab yet. That’s where all that was done. I think I’m finished with the Southampton place. One thing I didn’t mention about the glass factory was the TLB. As I had said about the 704 field strength meter, Arbeiter normally took what I did and fixed up the metal work before he put it into production. But, in the case of the trap, he took my design as it came to him and put it into production. And, the old timers in cable will remember a box about six inches long and four inches high with two very low loss coils inside which was called the TLB or the THB, either for high band or low band and momentarily you could get 70 dB of attenuation with it. But, it was unnecessarily big and clumsy and later on Don Kirk, in fact, redesigned it. This was one of the cases where he redesigned my stuff. I redesigned his as I will say when we get to the 522 amplifier. I think that sets us up for the transition to the laboratory on Byberry Road. Now the way that came about, this is not an early photograph but it is the best I have, one of our members, whom I have not mentioned so far, but whose name should go in here, Don Rogers, who came with us late in the period when we were at Southampton. Don had worked for Blonder-Tongue and was a very experienced man in broadband communications techniques. And, he was later on put in charge of the consumer products as contrasted with the cable industry products. And, Don had noticed a field that was for sale on Byberry Road, not far from Southampton and brought it to Milt’s attention, who in turn mentioned it to Feith and Feith bought it out of hand. Apparently, the price was good but he got at least ten acres, what is now the Jerrold main office. And, Feith erected a building there which at first consisted only of a long skinny building at right angles to the road. The various embellishments you see, part across the front and so on, were put on later.
TAYLOR: Is that the building that’s in the picture?
SIMONS: Well, no. That’s as it was five years later. I was chief engineer at the time the front addition was put on. In fact, to jump ahead of it while it is in mind at the time when I was chief engineer, on a particular Sunday afternoon, I happened to be driving by and thought I would just stick my head in to see how things were. The new addition had just been finished and wired up and it was winter time. No, it was summer time, I guess. It doesn’t matter. Anyway, when I opened the door, there was a tremendous smell of burning asphalt in the air and the floor tiles were bubbling. The technician had hooked up the air conditioning thermostat to the furnace and the furnace thermostat to the air conditioning. So the more it called for cold, the hotter it got. The temperature in there was in the order of 120 degrees.
TAYLOR: What time, what period, what date was this?
SIMONS: Beginning of 1958. Somewhere in there. It took a while to build. It took about a year to build it. A contractor from Southampton named Harry Epp built it. One of the things that happened, this will give you … You know we did have a jolly time, practical jokes were the order of the day. On one occasion, Don Kirk rigged up an ordinary porcelain socket with a 100 watt bulb in it and he used number 30 black enamel wire in the crack of the tile and hooked it up to the power. And, then he lit it up and called in the chief electrician. At that time he was chief engineer. He said, “I didn’t order that light there; how come you installed it there and so on?”
It was quite a bit of fun all the time. In fact, I enjoyed that so much not too long ago I had an electrical contractor working here. We redid the whole scenario and taped it downstairs.
Anyway, to get back to the building on Byberry Road. It was several years later but it fits the story at this point because of the feelings of the fellows that worked there, after Milt moved into 15th and Lehigh, which is a great big, old factory building, and had everything going in production and all that, he decided that he needed to have the engineering adjacent to the factory. So he ordered us all to come downtown and at that time there was a total of maybe ten or twelve engineers. We all went down; I was chief engineer at the time. We sat in sort of a classroom where we did lectures. He said, “I am going to move you down,” and he took us up and showed us the space where he was going to put us. And we went back to the classroom. I didn’t say anything but everybody in that room, every engineer in that room, stood up and said, “Mr. Shapp, if you move us down here, I’m quitting right now.” Eight of them. I felt, as chief engineer, it was not my place to quit. But that settled it – there was never any talk about moving after that. They liked this country atmosphere, the ease of commuting and all that. A lot of the fellows built in the area.
I should go back a little bit because I left two names out of the story and they are much in it. Frank Ragone and Mike Jeffers.
TAYLOR: Let me take a break at the moment. You are on the air.
SIMONS: Yeah. Okay. I think, first, I want to correct an omission in talking about the people who worked at the glass house. Two of the major characters came out as, I think you might say, trainees, although their status was considerably above that; they were engineers. Mike Jeffers was one. He had worked at the Naval Air Development Center up in Johnsville and was hired, I believe, from there by Milt and he came to the glass lab pretty much to find out what was going on and to be brought up to date and went on to do an excellent job of the very many things he did up to and including vice president of General Instrument. And the other was Frank Ragone who, I believe, the two of them worked together in Johnsville, I’m not sure. Anyway, he similarly came out for a short period of time while I was still at the glass house. While we are back there, I might mention a very cozy arrangement that I had at the glass house. Somewhere along the way in the Fall of 1952, the farmhouse in which we lived caught fire under very unusual circumstances.
TAYLOR: This was you and your family?
SIMONS: Yes, my family. Actually the fire was caused by the family’s pet rabbit, we think. There was a gasoline generator behind the house and all we know is that the tank of gasoline exploded and sprayed burning gasoline all over the house. Nobody was home; thank goodness. So nobody was hurt, but it destroyed …
TAYLOR: The purpose of the generator?
SIMONS: We had no electricity.
TAYLOR: Oh, I see!
SIMONS: We used to joke about it because you either could have television or wash but you could not do both. And, I had a 6 volt system to read in bed. It was primitive and wonderful. My dear wife, Reta, redid that farmhouse. It was in absolute shambles when we moved in and she turned it into a beautiful place. The best three years of our marriage. The kids remember with affection. I never will forget one day I was out in the backyard chopping wood, and we had a pet dog–police dog–a stag went by. The dog took off after the stag and I was afraid the dog would catch the stag, so I took off after the two of them. We all trooped up the hill. Anyway …
TAYLOR: What family did you have at that time?
SIMONS: Two children. My little girl, as a matter of fact, was born three quarters of a year after the fire.
TAYLOR: Oh, I see.
SIMONS: She was ten years after the other two. We should have named her like my brother did. He had a little girl ten years after the rest and he called her Phoebe. So it was P.S.
Anyway, Jeffers, in fact, was in the car with me when we drove over to look at and see what was going at the house. Somebody, a neighbor, had reported a column of smoke, that’s all. When we got there the roof was blazing away merrily. There was nothing much to be done. But he and Ragone came in. Ragone is now chief engineer of Comcast. They got their start in cable at that little old glass factory. I just want to be sure to get their names in the story.
TAYLOR: Ragone is spelled R-A-G-O-N-E?
SIMONS: Yeah. We used to call him Rags.
I should say a little bit about the political maneuvering because it might be confusing. At the time we moved from the Southampton area to the new building on Byberry Road, we had a three-way conference, including Arbeiter, Kirk and me, and we knew that Shapp wanted a chief engineer. Arbeiter had been chief engineer up until that point. He said, “He didn’t want the job with so many people.” I said, “I certainly didn’t want the job.” Kirk said, “Well, in that case, I guess I’ll have to take it.” So he did and he was chief engineer in the new building for about the first two years.
TAYLOR: How many?
SIMONS: About two years. He had a major difference with Shapp and got fired. And Feith, who was Shapp’s financial support at the time, grabbed Kirk. He knew what a capable man he was and formed Kirk-Feith Microwave which existed for a number of years. He made Kirk into a wealthy man. Of course, made the rest of us rather unhappy because the man who got mad at the boss and got fired became rich. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
TAYLOR: Did the microwave succeed in itself or were there other things they did in that company?
SIMONS: That was their product.
TAYLOR: That was their product?
SIMONS: As far as I know, I had nothing to do with it directly. I was never extremely friendly with Kirk. I admired his abilities but, as a person … hard to get along with.
TAYLOR: When did he leave Jerrold?
SIMONS: Well, put it around ’58. And, just by attrition, I became chief engineer.
TAYLOR: This Byberry Road plant is one that is also being called Hatboro, isn’t it?
TAYLOR: The same one. I thought that was so.
SIMONS: It’s on Byberry Road outside of Hatboro.
Anyway, a major project … I should first say that the first major project which was 704 took total from concept to production on the order of three years or less. It was rather quickly done, partly because the tuner was already accomplished; I merely copied what Dumont had done–put on it on new metal work. There was very little development involved.
TAYLOR: Did you have to concern yourself with patents?
SIMONS: I didn’t. Don’t know whether I had to. One thing I had learned along the way somewhere, I wanted to build an instrument that was dependable and covered the frequency range, but also it had to be calibratable. And I knew a bit about this because one of my jobs as general engineer for WCAU was measuring field strength. So I had used an RCA low frequency field strength meter and I knew what one was. In that case there would be an oscillator with a standard output calibration. I didn’t want to go to that expense but I did make my circuits mechanically very stable and also all of the gain controlling was done by cathode resistors so that the DC current was very stable and as a result, I think, the 704 was pretty dependable.
Anyway, the other major project was one that started the first day I started work for Jerrold and went on for at least five years, maybe six or seven, and that was designing a really adequate broadband sweeper. I got into some very exotic designs along the way, starting with the APN-1 Wobulator. The 6J6 was the tube of choice, with various circuit arrangements. I had one that worked with little wires that stuck up in the air. It never came together until Eric Winston got into the picture. I described to Eric what I wanted. What I wanted was good solid tuned circuit that was tunable. I stressed to him how important it was to have the inductance as low as possible because it had to go to high frequency. And I had this general concept of a beat frequency deal where for high frequency you use it direct and for low frequency the beat frequency. And this went on and on and various tubes and various arrangements. He kept getting better and better at building sliding short circuits. The one he wound up with is–I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one but it’s an amazing construction. It has almost zero minimum inductance. The plunger comes right out to the face, bumps the tube. The tube is a pencil triode and we sawed a slot in the pencil triode so you get enough feedback to make it oscillate. And there was a gentleman who worked for Winston and for several years he had a home project cutting tubes. He took them home on weekends cutting this without damaging the tube which is a very neat trick. He was paid twenty-five cents per 900 sweep. As I say, it took on the order of five years.
End of Tape 1, Side B
Start of Tape 2, Side A
TAYLOR: The interview with Ken SIMONS: is continued on February 18, 1992. For the record Dalck Feith, who was referred to several times in the interview, is spelled D-A-L-C-K F-E-I-T-H. You are on the air.
SIMONS: I think we were talking about the 900 sweep development of which went on for a long time. Originally was the concept, I knew exactly what we needed I didn’t know how to achieve it and gradually it became clearer and clearer with the systems of Eric Winston, who did all the mechanical work, we eventually came up with a sliding short circuit in a tube about an inch in diameter with a pencil triode as the oscillator and we were able to go out to 900 megahertz and to beat frequency 300 to 400 megahertz bandwidth. This was done using a “Quam” loudspeaker motor to drive a variable capacitor. At that time, of course, there were no adequate varactors, so this was the only choice we had. The only choice that I knew of. I can remember time after time having Mr. Shapp come up behind me while I’m working on the 900 sweep and saying, “When in hell are you going to be finished, SIMONS: ?” And I would say, “When it works; we’ll sell it.” And, that’s the way it was. We finally got it working and we sold a lot of them. One of our best customers was the Navy, which had nothing to do with cable. They liked it because, at the last minute, Winston and I got a patent on what we called a gearshift, which was a means whereby we withdrew the wobulator capacitor from the cavity and sort of waved the end of it to get a very narrowband sweep that was very stable. For some purposes that was very useful. In any case, at the time it seemed to me we were over-designing this piece, putting a tremendously expensive and complex piece of hardware in there to get a wobulator sweep but it proved out to be the right thing to do.
Now the other device that came along just a short while after–moving into the Byberry Road laboratory–was the directional coupler and there’s a story attached to the directional coupler patent that I think is worth telling. I have here an exhibit which I’ll describe. It’s an excerpt from a lesson which I wrote for the Central Radio School back in 1947 and the purpose of the lesson was to show the students that with a given voltage polarity from the source, with the current flowing in a certain direction, the direction in which the power was moving would be proscribed. You can tell which is the source and which is the load just by looking at the polarity of the current and the voltage. Well, this picture was in my head at the time I was trying to work out a directional coupler for cable and I said to myself, why don’t I sample the current and add a sample of the current to a sample of the voltage. And if they are in-phase, they will add; if they are out of phase, they will subtract and I will have a directional coupler. As far as we knew–at least as far as we knew at that time–this was an original idea, although I was familiar with the circuits the telephone people had used hybrid coils and so on. So I knew basically using the transformer what I wanted to do was possible. Reducing it to practice was something else again. In those days, we didn’t have any ferrites to work with. Getting enough coupling to make this concept work was quite a trick. We managed and we built directional couplers this way, and I got a patent on it … Actually, the major part of the success of the directional coupler in cable, or I should say the timing of the use of the directional coupler in cable, was considerably accelerated by a series of tests that I did showing the bad effects of pressure taps. I had an enormous reel of aluminum cable where every foot of several hundred feet was accessible and then I plugged pressure taps in it at various points and showed the effect of the resulting discontinuities and showed how they compared with calculations. This pretty well established with one article that pressure taps were pretty bad and directional couplers were a big improvement. This helped to bring about the widespread use of the directional coupler.
Also, you raised the question about Rhinefelder’s pressure tap. I don’t know whether he came before me or I came before him. But I do have a patent on it–a pressure tap which is directional. None was ever built.
TAYLOR: Rhinefelder did build some and was at one of the shows selling it. But it never took hold, obviously.
SIMONS: It’s obviously difficult to get a well matched system built that way.
TAYLOR: Interesting. I did not know about that.
SIMONS: You will find that on a list of patents I gave you.
TAYLOR: Are these the only copies you got?
SIMONS: No. Now the other rather interesting device was named by Caywood Cooley. He was very good at naming things.
TAYLOR: That’s C-A-Y-W-O-O-D?
SIMONS: And C-O-O-L-E-Y. I had developed or discovered some years even before I met Shapp that I could use a mercury-wetted contact relay to switch RF and establish a reference. So that as soon as I got around to it in the Jerrold lab, I built one of these, in fact, I still have the original prototype which is this. See fittings and all. What goes in there is dangerous–this thing is under high pressure, hydrogen under high pressure. You always keep it covered in like that. This, as it operates, goes click, click, click, click, click like that and Cooley promptly named it the Flicker-Dicker. And we manufactured switches using this principle; sold them for test purposes and …
TAYLOR: This is a reed in hydrogen? Is that what it is?
SIMONS: No. The reed relay has no mercury. We found later on that reed relays worked almost as well, if you get the right ones. Reed relays suffer from what we called lace curtains–they generate little EMFs due to the vibration.
TAYLOR: What is the function of the hydrogen?
SIMONS: Just to prevent arcs. It allows a higher voltage operation.
TAYLOR: But, it did have something that vibrated?
SIMONS: Oh, yeah! It’s in a pool of mercury and the mercury climbs up and wets the contact. That’s why it is called mercury-wetted. So it makes absolutely perfect contact on each side.
TAYLOR: And, it moves in and out of that, you say?
SIMONS: No. Let’s take one out. It hasn’t blown up for the last forty years; it probably won’t do so now. It’s this way up. There’s a flapper in there that is fastened to the bottom piece and is moved back and forth between the two contacts. And, there is very little capacity; it’s a small flapper. It works very well. We built them for Western Electric where we had a number of these all ganged together so that the impedance would always match–forward and back. So that was how the FD-30 came about. It was called FD-30 Flicker-Dicker, 30 cycles.
And, we had quite a bit of other test equipment. By the year 1960 or ’61, we were selling well over a million dollars a year in test equipment alone, entirely apart from the cable operation and the test equipment–a lot of it was bought by the cable industry. But, somewhere in the early ’60s, the accounting department decided that the cable department wasn’t making money. The reason they decided that was that they were loading us–I was then chief engineer of test equipment–with all the charges for the banquets they gave at the CATV convention and we didn’t deserve that share. They thought we were losing money and they closed us down. And, that was pretty much the end of my feeling of affection for Jerrold because that test equipment was pretty much what I did.
Anyway, on to other things.
TAYLOR: In that connection you developed the return loss bridge. You have not mentioned that yet.
SIMONS: No. In fact, there’s a whole series of things. We might as well so back again. Let’s go back to the glass house because the glass house is where I was first introduced to a thing called “periodicity.” In my red book, at the beginning of the chapter on cable measurements, I have a curve which is true to life, measured by me which shows a 60 dB notch at channel 4 or 5 and that was real. I didn’t believe it. When the field engineer came back and said he had a reel of cable that had a 60dB notch on a particular channel, I said, “You’ve got a TLB in there somewhere.” But, it was real. This very unusual occurrence of periodicity had added up to give complete cancellation at one frequency. So as of then, I started making some bridge measurements. We had played around with various approximate bridges and finally somewhere along the way–and I have a patent–I wasn’t able to find a copy, but I have a patent on the return loss bridge. But the patent was slightly premature because Andrew Alford had been building return loss bridges for about ten years by the time I took out the patent. Somebody was slightly remiss. In fact, we got into a patent fight on it after I was VP of R&D, in charge of patents for Jerrold. Alford sent us a note saying we were infringing his patent and would we pay royalty. I read his patent, which is a good thing to do when you are being sued and he had made a classic error. He had two claims: his first claim, claimed all bridges of all sorts; his second claim, claimed a bridge with gray iron, powdered-iron cores, four turns and number 23 wires. In between was where we were.
TAYLOR: Did this go to court?
SIMONS: No. I pointed out to him that he didn’t have a case and that was the end of it.
I wasn’t terribly good as director of patents but I knew enough to lean heavily on the lawyers. You know I … We on the record? It doesn’t matter. I was … Are we off?
TAYLOR: No. We are on.
SIMONS: Okay. I was very much involved in the patent suit that developed in later years between RCA and Jerrold. Jerrold sued RCA for selling them transistors under false pretenses. Which they did.
TAYLOR: This was the transistor in Starline 1 wasn’t it?
SIMONS: Yes, the “3866.”
TAYLOR: I have heard that story from another side.
SIMONS: Well, my sympathies, of course, were on both sides. I worked for RCA for many years and I had great respect for them. But, in this case, they were wrong. We were able to produce an internal memo that showed their own engineering department had recommended that the thing be derated to 3 1/2 watts, which was still overrated, but at 5 watts it died. The story I heard was from one of the systems down south where the technician said, “They died like flies.” In a thunderstorm, they just perished.
TAYLOR: This was not a patent infringement; this was a misrepresentation.
SIMONS: Yeah! No, I don’t think we ever got into a patent infringement problem. Oh, I started to get on cables; we’ll do cables before we do transistors.
So I developed a technique of measuring periodicity and I found that adjusting the bridge impedance to match the cable impedance improved precision of the measurement and allowed one to separate two things. In other words, (a) is the characteristic impedance due to periodicity on average 75 ohms and (b) are their humps and bumps in the characteristic impedance due to periodicity and you could to put a separate spec on the two. And, that was my idea at the time. We built bridges both ways. We built adjustable bridges; we built fixed bridges. I’ve heard arguments both ways. In my opinion, if you have unskilled personnel, test personnel, the best thing to do is give them a fixed bridge and if it goes above this line, throw it out. But, if you yourself, want to know what is wrong with the cable, then an adjustable bridge will tell you whether your problem is that your inner conductor diameter is too big or whether it is periodicity.
TAYLOR: There was quite a controversy between Hank Lubhars of General Cable and Walt Roberts of Superior, later CommScope. Roberts maintained that since the equipment is 75 ohms, you should use a 75 ohm bridge. Lubhars pointed out that depending on where you cut the cable is what impedance you got. Unfortunately, Roberts was killed in a plane crash and no one ever picked up that side of the argument, I guess.
SIMONS: I think the crux of the argument, personally for myself, if it is my cable and I am testing it, I much prefer the variable bridge because I know what my problem is. But, in real life in a factory, with the kind of people they put on the test line, the fixed bridge is the only way to go.
TAYLOR: There are two things involved here. One is the specification of a cable and you need something that is repeatable and isn’t dependent on where you cut it and you need a structural return loss.
SIMONS: It doesn’t take any skill.
TAYLOR: That’s right. For equipment testing, you are probably right. The fixed bridge has its place. But, that’s not saying that the cable–if that’s the way to measure cable–then determine whether it meets the manufacturer’s specification. Well, anyway, I should stay out of it.
SIMONS: In my discussion on this in the red book, which is no longer red by the way, it is now green.
TAYLOR: I got a blue copy, also.
SIMONS: Well, the blue copy is the second edition; the red was the third.
TAYLOR: Oh, is that right?
SIMONS: I show that if you use what you might call an ordinary way of measuring impedance, such as bridging it across a line or feeding it from a vacuum tube and so on. Then what you get depends completely on where you cut the cable because you are looking at the combination of the return wave and the forward wave. Whereas, with a bridge, you are only looking at the return wave. So it doesn’t care where you cut the cable, you will get the same reading. That’s the big advantage of a bridge.
Anyway, there’s a lot more than that to the cable story. But, we were successful in the late ’50s in persuading the cable people to do whatever they had to do such as using tractors instead of take-up reels to get away from the periodicity.
TAYLOR: Do you know anything about the relations between Jerrold and Times Fiber, Larry DeGeorge?
SIMONS: Of course, I have done consulting work for Times.
Well, I wonder if it’s time to go into the transistor discussion. Oh, there’s a few more things to say about cable. It’s a matter of fact that along with all the other things we did in that glass house lab under primitive conditions, I built a shielding efficiency device which worked and which sorted out good cable from bad cable. It was not calibrated, I had no idea what the transfer impedance was. But, it doesn’t matter. If you have a piece of good cable and you know what it does for the environment, then you can find out that another one is not good; then you know it is not that good. This was a half wavelength resonant thing.
TAYLOR: The one that they called “Seed?”
SIMONS: No, no. The Belden Seed was different.
TAYLOR: That’s different.
SIMONS: I have a paper on “Seed.” Around 1970 I went through the math after I built a well matched “terminated triaxial fixture,” then I went back and borrowed a “Seed” fixture from Belden and discovered the arithmetic that went with “Seed” and wrote it up and sent them a copy. I never published it. Because you know, in this country, many people rely on “Seed.” The only thing wrong with it, it measures leakage but there’s no way to mathematically calibrate it. The only advantage of the jig that I worked out, that Times uses, is that from the measurement, you can precisely say what the transfer impedance is per meter and that’s an excellent measure of cable shielding efficiency. Whereas, the “Seed” number you get is a certain number of dB. That’s all you got.
TAYLOR: Before you go into transistors, let’s talk about the connectors a bit. You have laying out on the table here a “C” and an “F” and we know they went through a series of connectors that had a problem with not staying tight and then Eric Winston came up with the integral shield. Can you say something about this? Were you involved in some of this and what went on?
SIMONS: Well, I was involved all along in the impedance testing. That was Eric would work out a design that he thought was appropriate. This was particularly true after we got into aluminum jacketed cable connectors. But, from the very beginning the big objection to the “C” fitting and the big reason for going to the “F” fitting was not only the mechanical aspect, which in the “C” fitting wasn’t that bad. It was fairly easy to put on, disconnect and connect and all that. The only thing wrong with it was that it put an electrical lump in the cable.
TAYLOR: It was also a small size – RG-59.
SIMONS: Yeah! I worked with Eric in doing the electrical testing of the “F” fitting as it progressed. At one point we had a really marvelous 75 ohm fitting but it wasn’t practical–the center pin did not have enough give to allow for the various diameters of the center conductors that were used for RG-6 and RG-59.
TAYLOR: Was Eric the one who did the “C” fitting as well?
SIMONS: I simply can’t say. The “C” fitting happened before I came on board. Don’t know.
TAYLOR: I see. But Eric was there at the time.
SIMONS: I doubt very much that Eric was. Incidentally, I don’t think it does any harm to spell out … Why don’t we go off the air for a minute.
TAYLOR: When did Eric Winston come aboard Jerrold? Do you know?
SIMONS: Well, I know that it was in the very early ’50s because I was working with him on early versions of the 900 sweep before I left the glass factory lab.
TAYLOR: He wasn’t with Milt at the time when you first started consulting with Milt? It was later.
SIMONS: No. He was hired within a year after I started.
TAYLOR: ’52 or thereabout?
SIMONS: Yeah! I would guess. I called him last night to see if he could tell me where the “F” fitting came from and Eric is one of the few people I know–at least he is different from me put it that way. When he retires, he retires. He hasn’t touched nut, bolt or screw in the last five years. He just cruises around the country with his lovely wife and enjoys his retirement.
TAYLOR: I know that the C fitting and those cast … 1501s were in use when Norm and I went to Centralia in late ’52. So that must have been somebody’s design, either somebody outside of Jerrold or somebody at Jerrold.
SIMONS: I can make one suggestion and I don’t have the evidence. But, in having burned the house down, one of the things I lost was issues of the IRE proceedings from 1937 to 1952. Now somewhere in there, there is an article describing an apartment house system with amplifiers that are remarkably similar to the Jerrold amplifiers and probably connectors that are remarkably similar to the “C” fittings. I don’t know but that’s where I would look if I wanted to find out.
TAYLOR: You don’t know by whom the article would have been?
SIMONS: An RCA type.
TAYLOR: Well, what sort of fittings did Blonder-Tongue? They must have had some fittings.
SIMONS: I really don’t know. The fact that I hooked up an antenna to a Blonder-Tongue amplifier in 1950 or ’49 and I had fittings … In fact, I showed you a picture of the switcher that I built. I am sure that it didn’t have BNC; I’m sure it had “C” fittings.
TAYLOR: It’s this one?
TAYLOR: Oh yeah! That’s what I would call “C” fittings.
SIMONS: That was built in Jerrold lab–prototype.
TAYLOR: Oh, I see.
SIMONS: No, the switcher I referred to is the one I did the year before I met Milt. In fact, I don’t remember what it looked like.
TAYLOR: How did the sleeve connector come about? I’ll take your story and then I’ll tell you what I heard.
SIMONS: Eric is the man to ask and he can be caught. He occasionally lands at home for a week or so. He will be the man to talk to and I simply haven’t the vaguest idea.
TAYLOR: The interesting story I heard, and you may be interested in it, I visited Joe Hale out in South San Francisco and he was having a terrible time keeping his system tight. He was right under two of the full-power TV stations on Mt. San Bruno and he was just getting terrible direct pickup. So he would go out and tighten everything up so and it would be clean for about a week and then it would come back again. The Amp dealer came by one day and showed him fittings that he had to use a great high power press to compress the hexagon ferrule on, but, in order to compress the hexagon ferrule, you had to have something underneath the cable. And, he had some stainless steel sleeves that he shoved in the cable and compressed the hex on it. Joe said, “That’s what I need.” And, he got a few of them from Amp and he worked with Jerrold quite a bit, so he took it to Jerrold and that was the beginning of the–they called it a VCK or something of that sort. It was a sleeve, separate sleeve. There was only one trouble with it; that is, you get contractors out there, it was a terrible job to bore the cable out to take the sleeve. And, nobody could tell whether the sleeve was in, so they put it together the easy way and tell you the sleeves were in it. So, it was after that then the integral sleeve came out–about 1973, as I recall from looking in the NCTA publication.
SIMONS: I just wasn’t involved, as I remember.
TAYLOR: Well, I think this is maybe a good place as any to stop.
SIMONS: The next subject I would like to cover before we get to transistors is the distributed amplifier.
TAYLOR: Well, I’d love to get into that. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to meet with Fitz Kennedy.
SIMONS: For the record, the first Jerrold amplifier–the 522–was a carbon copy, a precise carbon copy of SKL.
TAYLOR: Carbon copy of SKL?
SIMONS: Yeah! SKL had installed in Buckhill Falls the first twelve channel cable system in this country and it was successful. Of course, everybody at Jerrold said they would fall on their face; they wouldn’t be able to cascade more than three so on and so on. But, they did and it sort of opened the eyes of the Jerrold people as to what was possible. Of course, the first thing they would say was “Nobody wants twelve channels.” Why would you want twelve channels and so on?
TAYLOR: Well, that’s of course another issue.
TAYLOR: Okay. Well, thank you. We will terminate this now and I’m sure we will be back together in the not too distant future. Thank you, Ken. I sure appreciate your spending some time with us.
SIMONS: It was nice. I have nothing but time.
INTERVIEW TERMINATED ON FEBRUARY 18, 1992. IT WAS RESUMED ON MARCH 9, 1992 (STILL TAPE 2, SIDE A)
TAYLOR: We are resuming now on the 9th of March in Ken’s home. We’ll take on from here.
Before we start on Ken’s narrative, however, I would like to make a couple of comments: (1) I really long considered you to be the technical genius behind Jerrold and its subsequent successes. You were the first one I wanted to interview. There are others and we will try to touch all of the other companies involved, as well as Jerrold. I am going to have interviews so that we don’t get incestuous. They will not be Jerrold people interviewing Jerrold people. We are going to get cross-pollination here. What I wanted to get into a little bit–I think we did not get into the first session–was what was happening in those early days. Who was here? Were you the first one with Milt or were there others?
SIMONS: Actually, Kirk was consulting engineer for Milt for about two years before I came along and Arbeiter was with him from the very beginning–in 1948. So I was in fact the third technical person on the staff.
TAYLOR: How long was it before Mike Jeffers, for example, and Caywood Cooley came into the picture?
SIMONS: Caywood came in, I think, within a year, maybe two years after I did. Mike Jeffers and Frank Ragone came in pretty much the same time. They were hired from the Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville where they had been working and Milt apparently found out that they were good engineers. And, they worked with me at the glass factory in Bryn Athyn–each of them for maybe six months, perhaps, to serve an introductory routine. So, I would put that in around ’54.
TAYLOR: They worked with you for about six months? Is that what happened?
SIMONS: Yeah! They went downtown and worked with the production department and then eventually we all got together in a four-car garage in Southampton. And, at that time, Mike, Frank, Kirk, Arbeiter and I worked together for the first time.
TAYLOR: Another thing I wanted to get your views on. What do you think was happening the first days you were there? Did you visualize a cable TV business? Or, what did you think you were involved in at that time?
SIMONS: Well, it was very easy for me. I’m sure that Kirk, Arbeiter and Shapp had to make a transition because their original business–the second business. The first business was boosters which fell on its face; the second business was apartment house amplifiers. Kirk had found an article in IRE proceedings back just after the war. Some RCA engineer spelled out an apartment system but never built one. So Kirk picked up the pieces and built one according to that man’s circuit and it worked. And, they sold a lot of them. And, it was not their doing that the amplifier was used up in Lansford by Tarlton to make the first cable system. So cable came to Shapp as a more or less fait accompli. However, he had the vision–Milt had dollar signs in his eyes ten minutes after he heard about the Lansford thing–and he was pushing vigorously to get bigger and better systems.
TAYLOR: You said, when he heard about the Lansford thing, I thought Jerrold was the one who did that?
SIMONS: No, I believe Tarlton did it with Jerrold equipment.
TAYLOR: Oh! I see.
SIMONS: He bought standard Jerrold apartment house amplifiers and put them together to form a system–a small system. And, he found of course they would not cascade because they were single tuned–peaked on the video carrier–and after you had two or three amplifiers, you could not see the picture. But, at that point, Kirk came in and stagger tuned the same amplifier. I don’t think he changed the circuit–just stagger tuned them and dropped the gain a little and got bandwidth. And, then they would cascade. And, that all happened before I came along.
TAYLOR: Now, almost simultaneously with that, Martin Malarkey was getting started up in Pottsville and because he had a friend who was with RCA, he ended up, about the same time, with RCA’s antenna or apartment amplifier.
TAYLOR: He called it Antennavision, I believe; if I remember correctly.
SIMONS: And, they were all discovering the fundamentals of the cascade problem which remained a problem for probably up until the good transistor amplifiers came along in the ’60s. In other words, you either had group delay problems or you had noise problems or, as in the case with the first transistor amplifier–I forget the name of the company that made it, but it had 60 dB of gain and you cascade two of them. Then they would overload on their own noise.
TAYLOR: Was that …
SIMONS: Begins with a “W.”
TAYLOR: Yes. West, West. It was Hank Abajian and it wasn’t Westfield–Westwood or West something. I remember; it was Westport. Westport, Long Island.
SIMONS: Yeah! We are a little ahead of the story. I would like to go ahead with the transistor story.
TAYLOR: Right! Right! What I was really interested in was what you, Milt and Hank thought you were doing at the time? It was Lansford and Bob Tarlton that triggered the idea of maybe you could move into a wider field.
SIMONS: That’s right. And, initially the whole thrust was on the coal towns behind the mountains in Pennsylvania. It broadened out very quickly but that’s where it started. And, I would say that after the first five years, Milt had a very well organized sales department that was promoting vigorously and cable was on its way.
TAYLOR: Somewhere in there he introduced this service contract–which when we got started in Kalispell in 1953, we tried every subterfuge we could find to get through his contract and buy Jerrold equipment. We couldn’t do it. We were engineers who had raised some money and because we were engineers, there was no way we could pay Milt. Perpetually …
SIMONS: The FTC took care of it for you.
TAYLOR: Well, they did. Yeah! And, we had a little part of that too because Norm Penwell was involved in the Justice Department’s anti-trust suit. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw Milt and Norm together, Milt would hardly speak to Norm, much more than to say hello.
SIMONS: I think it’s fair to say that my opinion at that time was Milt’s intentions were perfectly above board. He was not acting in restraint of trade. He was very, very worried that he was putting a highly technical product into the hands of people who would not know what to do with it.
TAYLOR: I think I always understood this. Anyway, he still made it impossible for us. Well, whatever the difficulty was it was not with the concept but with the prices that he asked. It was just … It was hand in pocket approach.
SIMONS: He also did some slightly questionable things. He pretended to his customers that the design of the–it was called the W-Strip–the design of the W-strip did not change from year to year. And, for about four to five years, he sold W-strips, except inside we were working like mad to make it work. And, it wasn’t until ’68 or so that Kirk built an amplifier that was physically wider and performed well. The original strip was too confined. It was impossible, economically, to build a good amplifier on that chassis. I did build a good one, with mica button bypass capacitors and interstage shields, but it wasn’t producible.
TAYLOR: It was as long as ’68 before you had …
SIMONS: It was the restraint of the 1 1/4 inch wide chassis for a number of years.
TAYLOR: One and one-quarter, what’s that?
SIMONS: One and one-quarter inch wide amplifier strip. The W-strip was 8 to 10 inches long and 1 1/4 inches wide.
TAYLOR: I see.
SIMONS: And used four or five 6AK5s or six AB6s.
TAYLOR: I see. In order to get into a small enough package …
SIMONS: The whole thing was mounted upside down so that as much heat as possible would be generated. And, perhaps the thing that drove me nuts for years was the power supply. The power supply put out 150 watts regulated by VR-150, fed from a constant voltage Sola transformer which put out 160 volts. So, there was a 10 volt drop across the resistor and, as a result, all the VR-150s burned out the first week.
TAYLOR: The thing that surprises me about the date is that 1968 is when we built …
TAYLOR: ’58. Oh! Oh! Okay. All right. No. That hangs together because … Either you misspoke or I misheard, one of the two. So, it’s 1958.
SIMONS: I guess it says something about the success of Jerrold up to the point of that Federal suit that they survived it economically and didn’t go under because they really tore into him.
TAYLOR: Yeah, they did and Strat Smith, who at the time I think was working for Welch Mott and Morgan a Washington law firm–Welch Mott and Morgan were, as I understand it–and some of this I have wrong from memory I guess–worked with Jerrold on various legal matters. And, Strat advised Shapp against this service contract and Shapp made the point that you made that it was a legitimate concept; there was good reason for wanting to control the way the equipment was used.
SIMONS: And, Jerrold had a very capable corps of field engineers who followed through. People like Vic Nicholson, who knew everything there was to know about putting a system together and making it work.
TAYLOR: Now, when did Vic come into the picture?
SIMONS: I imagine in ’55, somewhere there. He was a ten-man force.
TAYLOR: I admire Vic very much. I got to know him through his training session that he ran and he was just excellent–an excellent person. I have gotten to know him fairly well over the years. But, in 1953 when we were trying to get Jerrold equipment, we were unable to find that there was anything that Jerrold would do for us. We could not identify anything. They would send us literature and keep us up to date. This was about the extent of what we found they would do. That’s why I raised the question about Vic because, had we known that Vic would be around to help us, we might have had a little different attitude.
SIMONS: It’s a matter of fact that there probably were a great many other field engineers but Vic is the one I remember.
TAYLOR: But, Vic didn’t come into the Jerrold organization until the mid-’50s–1955 you say?
TAYLOR: At that time, first you were with you Milt and Hank Arbeiter, you were the first one?
SIMONS: No. Don Kirk was there. I came in at the time that the W-strip had been staggered tuned and they were on their way with a reasonably good cascadable three channel system.
TAYLOR: Okay. That clarifies the technological chronology.
SIMONS: And for the record, although it is unimportant in the days of fifty and one hundred channel systems, it was Vic Nicholson who discovered that you could put three and five in there, in addition to two, four and six to get five channels. He was single handedly responsible for that switch.
TAYLOR: You will laugh but it was John Walsonavich who told me he was the guy.
SIMONS: These things always, I think, come and go.
TAYLOR: A lot of people think of it at the same time. All right. I think that gets through the matters I wanted to raise. Now, do you have an idea where you would like to go from here?
SIMONS: Yeah! I would like to go into the early days of the switch over to transistors but first one word about–you said something about me being the genius in cable TV–one of the penalties one pays for working very hard and thinking very hard about technical matter is that you tend to see things that can be done a good many years before they come. And, in all truth, that is a pain in the neck. For instance for the last ten years–although a bit more later–I have had this concept of the fiber optic switched system and it’s coming true now. General Telephone is doing it. But, to sit on that for ten years is a pain in the neck. Anyway, one word about the general organization of Jerrold and how it changed. During the ten years we worked for Milt, from 1951 to 1961, he was a constant stimulation–he was a constant inspiration, in that when we did something good he, generally speaking, understood what we have done and, generally speaking, patted us on the back. He was there; he was a symbol of. We knew who we were working for and I am afraid that after he was bought out, that feeling disappeared completely. None of us old-timers, at least, had any rapport at all with the new organization and I am afraid that did not help the progress of engineering.
TAYLOR: The first buy out by Harmon and Pilot.
SIMONS: No, we bought out Harmon.
TAYLOR: Oh! You bought out Harmon. How’d Pilot got in there?
SIMONS: Pilot also.
TAYLOR: Who bought them?
SIMONS: Jerrold bought them.
TAYLOR: But, that brought in a new management team. Did it not?
SIMONS: I forget when the switch occurred.
TAYLOR: Because I recall Milt saying that had been an unsuccessful arrangement. And, I think he intended that Harmon and Pilot would be the new management team and he could ease off and start working for John Kennedy.
SIMONS: It was. He wanted to run for Governor.
TAYLOR: Oh, yeah! So …
SIMONS: Well, it actually happened, I believe, at the time that General Instrument came in. I can be wrong. But, that will be in ’64, somewhere there.
TAYLOR: Okay now. Before we go on, let me just run this back and make sure we are getting it. Now we are recording again and we are getting it all right.
SIMONS: I think there’s perhaps two matters–since we are talking about the takeover of General Instrument buying out Jerrold–one of the results of that buy out was very disappointing to those of us who had been working on test equipment. Hank Arbeiter and I–at that time I had the title of chief test equipment engineer and Hank was working very hard in that department and we had a good test equipment business going. We had developed a 900 sweep I described earlier and several other sweeps, including one that Bell Telephone bought for use in their factories and we were making and grossing about a million dollars a year. But, the accounting department loaded us with–that is the test equipment department–all the expenses for lavish conventions in Las Vegas and so on which had nothing to do with us and didn’t do us any good. And, as a result, we showed up on the balance sheet as losing money. So they scratched the test equipment department and they lost me at that time. I stayed on for another ten years but my heart was not in it.
Anyway, the …
TAYLOR: Do you know what–can you put a year on that?
SIMONS: ’62, I would say. It was painful. That together with the fact that we lost touch; there was no Milt Shapp at the head and all the fun went out of it.
Anyway, the big challenge that came up was the use of transistors and we were forced into it, whether we liked it or not. Other people were making amplifiers. There was one–you mentioned the name of the organization who made the 60dB–Westbury Electronics, produced amplifiers for CATV using transistors and they gave me one to test and it had 60dB of gain and the noise figure was good, but I predicted that they would cascade about two of them and then it wouldn’t work beyond that and, in fact, something like that happened when they tried to make a system with these amplifiers. The thing that inspired quite a bit of work that I later did in analyzing the limitation of a cascaded system of amplifiers resulted from that initial experience with one that wouldn’t cascade. The transistor was a tremendous challenge or you could say a pain in the neck because we were very …
End of Tape 2, Side A
Start of Tape 2, Side B
SIMONS: With the advent of transistors or the need to use transistors in cable systems, we were faced with a tremendous challenge and a very painful challenge because we were all very comfortable with vacuum tubes. Anyway, at first we felt completely bewildered by the transistor. We didn’t have the vaguest notion as to how it worked or what to do with it. So, we hired in two or three transistor engineers, who came in and taught us all about Beta and all those things, but didn’t know anything about RF. So, we had one group of engineers in the lab who knew quite a bit of RF and didn’t know anything about transistors and another group who knew about transistors but not about RF. And, eventually we fired all the transistor engineers. We had learned enough about them ourselves to proceed. And, there was in the very beginnings–there was more or less a contest going on–I had chosen, because I had just been working on the SCA-213 distributed amplifier, to build a distributed amplifier using these little pip-squeak transistors that has so little output that one of them wouldn’t do the job, so I used six or eight of them in a distributed amplifier. And, I saw fit to donate to the Cable Museum, the breadboards of those distributed amplifiers because they were a nightmare, just a tremendously complex circuitry. They did work; I was able to get reasonable output and reasonable gain, but the price and circuitry was horrendous.
In the meantime, George Duty, who was a very capable senior technician in Jerrold, was working on a single transistor amplifier using a stud transistor which he called the TML. As usual with Jerrold the letters always mean something; in this case, transistor mainliner.
TAYLOR: What is his name again?
SIMONS: George Duty.
TAYLOR: Can you spell it?
SIMONS: And, George was one of those people who doesn’t believe anything anybody tells him; only what he sees. And, he did a capable job of working out the circuitry for this stud transistor. At the time I didn’t even know a stud transistor existed. And, he did and he used it very successfully and, in fact, the TML amplifier made its debut in the form of a prototype which was put on the roof at Jerrold and run for an entire year and then measured. And, the gain did not change an iota in a year.
TAYLOR: Now, what was the circuitry of this? It wasn’t a distributed amplifier?
SIMONS: No. It was a single stage–I think, two stage or three stage amplifier. There is something about it I don’t know because there’s something of a mystery. The circuitry that came into use at that time was the double feedback stage which was matched in and matched out and, I think, the first such amplifier was one that Norman Everhart built for Western Electric. He used four stages of 3866 transistors and a double feedback configuration and it was very flat and very stable and matched in and matched out.
TAYLOR: Is that 3866 the stud that you showed me?
SIMONS: No. The 3866 is the one that gave so much trouble later on. That’s a Jerrold special version of it.
Anyway, somewhere along about that time, maybe a year after the TML, we started using 3866s because there wasn’t a good stud transistor available at that time. Now, what was wrong with the stud transistor that George Duty used, I don’t know. I don’t remember the details. I do know that about that time they made me vice president and one of my jobs was to tour various companies, such as Philips in Eindhoven and Motorola and each of the major transistor manufacturers and I practically got down on my knees to these guys and begged them to make a transistor with high FT, lots of current and a stud. And, nobody listened to me. I told them what a big market CATV was going to be and how they can make lots of money and nobody listened. It was really sad. But, I think, probably this might have been how RCA got into the picture because they did develop this 3866.
TAYLOR: Was RCA one of the places you visited?
SIMONS: Oh, yes.
TAYLOR: Was Hewlett Packard one of them?
SIMONS: No. I don’t think they were in it yet. I am not sure.
TAYLOR: At some point they came up with a kind of–I know; that’s another story I am going to hear in due course.
SIMONS: Oh, I know. Another story. Anyway, the big mistake which came out of all of this was when 3866 came out, we had a transistor which was adequate in regards to the high frequency cutoff and enough gain and their rating on it was a 5 watt rating. And, we proceeded to design very good amplifiers using 3866s in double feedback stages and they performed beautifully, except that we learned later from an internal memo that our lawyers managed to get that the RCA management had been advised that this was actually a 3 1/2 watt transistor. And, it didn’t matter; we never had any trouble in Canada. But, down South, around the 4th of July when it got hot, as one of the assistant operators described it, they died like flies–that is, the transistors did. They couldn’t stand the heat.
TAYLOR: Was this the amplifier that marketing labeled as Starline 1?
SIMONS: Yes. Starline 1. And, it marked two major milestones because use of transistors was one major milestone; unfortunately, we didn’t use them wisely. Incidentally, I had the job of testifying before a group of four lawyers about this and helped to win the case for Jerrold.
The other milestone was due entirely to a combination of Eric Winston and somebody who has not been mentioned, George Burell. George had been working for Dalck Feith and was hired by Milt to specialize in the production of parts, particularly with die casting and he and Eric worked out the first die cast waterproofed housing which was in Starline 1. And, that was a tremendous step forward as far as packaging of the amplifier went.
TAYLOR: This was before Western Electric KS specs came out?
SIMONS: I think so. I assume they would have been around ’65. We incidentally had the most delightful relationship with Bell Laboratories and the Western Electric General. I took the first of the sweeps that I referred to earlier up to North Andover and demonstrated it with great satisfaction and they accepted it. And, I always adored their method of operation and their way of specification–everything about Western was, from my standpoint, impeccable and I learned a great deal of what I knew about amplifiers and so on from their early literature on telephone repeaters.
TAYLOR: Now they had the cascade problem worked out considerably before cable TV.
SIMONS: Well, in reading, I had the L-3 carrier system article on my desk from the early ’50s and I knew what we had to do eventually. I didn’t know how to do it. Their feedback was so far ahead of ours. We never accomplished feedback with tubes but very quickly learned to use it with transistors.
Anyway, it was all part of the reason that I felt very, very bad when the AT&T breakup came along. I think it is one of the stupidest things that ever happened to this country. However, on to better things.
TAYLOR: I’m going to stop a minute and get a drink of water.
SIMONS: Sure. Would you like a drink of something else–coffee?
TAYLOR: No, just water.
SIMONS: So, I find it hard to make the transition into the next step, except that I remember clearly the Starline 20, in which case we used stud transistors, with good heat sinking and the potential for no problems. In fact, I think history would show that the Starline 20 was quite successful from this standpoint.
TAYLOR: I think there are a lot of them still in service.
SIMONS: Yeah! I had the pleasure–or the assignment I should say–of developing a demonstration for the Starline 20, using the concept, I think I originated, of an octave-band, twenty channels, from 120-240 megahertz, which got around a lot of problems. And, in fact, from January until June of one year, I can’t–about ’65–I worked building a rack of equipment which generated twenty channels and this was not finished until 5 a.m. the morning of the convention but at that time it worked well enough to demonstrate. At the same time, I built a set converter which I don’t remember much about it, except that it was a channel-by-channel tuner. And, on the morning of the convention, I was there at 8 o’clock and had all my pictures turned on and ready to demonstrate and the president of the company, Bob Beisswenger, walked across the display in from of me without turning around and I chased him and grabbed him by the arm and said, “By God Bob, you are going to look at my twenty channels.” And, he did and was very pleased with them.
Anyway, the Starline 20 exemplified how it should be done. There wasn’t much wrong with it but, unfortunately, we went on following will-o’-the-wisp called printed circuit amplifiers or whatever you call them, where the whole amplifier is one package and that was the point at which Hewlett Packard got into the act. They had such a package and they wanted to sell it to us and it was very neat. You only had to make two or three connections and you had an amplifier. But, unfortunately, it just transferred the burden of the problem of heat dissipation from Jerrold to Hewlett Packard and Hewlett Packard had not done quite enough research and had an infinite amount of trouble. I think we are talking here around the late ’60s–’68 or so.
TAYLOR: That sounds about right.
SIMONS: Jerrold simply had an immense amount of trouble with the–I don’t have the right word for it.
TAYLOR: Well, he called it a chip but it wasn’t really a chip.
SIMONS: Yeah! Chip amplifier. Whatever. It had transformers inside the case so you couldn’t see them–you couldn’t see the problem like you could in Starline 20. Starline 20 consisted of transistors assembled into a circuit. But, there were certain advantages in the transistor assembled into a circuit. You can nail the problem either to the transistors or the circuit. The HP thing–I believe the key to it was they had some very sophisticated design engineers who put into production transistors which were not quite ready. The details of their design weren’t worked out to the point where they could stand up under the temperatures that they were used. And, it was just like that. So, we went through another round of problems rather similar to the popcorn failures in the early ’60s–amplifiers failing all over the place and don’t know what to do about it.
So, at the same time–a personal note–this business of being vice president did not sit well with me at all. I was a little bit like Henry Arbeiter, who managed to stay in the background all of his life. I should have done so but I had just enough interest that I accepted when they made me vice president. I went to a few meetings and did a bit of traveling and got an ulcer; I had to have part of my stomach removed. So, I was not cut out for executive work. Along those lines, Bob Beisswenger was an excellent president. He provided quite a bit of what Milt had provided, that is, he was a handsome, forth-right man and somebody to work for. He didn’t know what we were doing but at least he directed us well and saw to it that we were paid properly. For about four or five years he tried to bring in outside people to run the laboratory. I had been chief engineer and then VP but, as a manager of a laboratory, I wasn’t really doing a good job. So, Bob kept trying to replace me and I can remember one gentleman–I can’t name him, shouldn’t if I could–but he had been in charge of some very big government laboratory, something of that sort–a good record as manager of engineers–and, he came in and turned the laboratory upside down. After a year of his efforts, the model shop was on double overtime and we were running behind schedule on everything and it was my pleasure, unfortunately, to give him his papers. I should say I enjoyed it because he was hurting the lab. Anyway, after that, for a period of several years, I was urging Bob Beisswenger to put Mike Jeffers in the spot because I had known Mike then for ten to fifteen years and knew he was a solid engineer and I also knew that he was ambitious. He wanted the job. In my view, there was every reason why they should give it to him and eventually they did. He became chief engineer and moved on to vice president and eventually he was vice president of General Instrument. And, he was one of these extremely intelligent, hard working conscientious young men and deserved everything he got.
I guess I can say a little bit at this point …
INTERRUPTION FOR TELEPHONE CALL
TAYLOR: Well, I have one question I want to ask. When did the idea of push-pull get into the circuitry?
SIMONS: Well, I think the basics of push-pull were pretty well evident at the time we did Starline 20 because, with Starline 20, we were wasting bandwidth–we had lots of bandwidth we could not use and also, there were, even at that time, some people thought more than twenty channels would be nice. I can remember at the time–didn’t we call it Starline 20 push-pull?
TAYLOR: Oh, yeah! I’m sure it was push-pull.
SIMONS: The first Starline wasn’t; the first Starline was single ended. And, the reason we went push-pull is exactly because we needed that extra bandwidth to put more channels.
TAYLOR: I guess I remember that. The TML was not push-pull.
SIMONS: Oh, no.
TAYLOR: There was no push-pull in the vacuum tubes.
SIMONS: No, there was no push-pull. Second order beat was something we discovered in 1955. I don’t know if I told that story; I think I did. I have a schematic of the amplifier that Bill Felsher and I built which was not push-pull and which went 34-88 megahertz. Unfortunately, we tried it on, with all those channels, before we sold it and discovered second order beat.
TAYLOR: Bill Felsher, was he at Jerrold?
SIMONS: Yes. He was at Jerrold most of the time I was. Anyway …
TAYLOR: Actually, the push-pull came in because somebody visualized a need for the mid-band channels.
SIMONS: Yes. I can remember–I can’t give you a date–I think I still have the slide somewhere–I stood up at a convention, somewhere in the mid-’60s and said–that we were talking then about–this was four years after Starline 20–the new push-pull amplifier. And, I stood up and said that the number of channels that they needed was several times bigger than what they thought they needed. And, I mentioned twenty channels as being the absolute minimum and it seemed to me that forty were perfectly practical and there was no reason why they couldn’t go to eighty using parallel trunks if necessary. I felt, at that time, that the demand was there. The people wanted all the channels they could get, not because they needed all that entertainment, but because 90 percent of their eighty channels was going to be unusable anyway because of lousy programming.
I can remember–this was ad lib–just stood up in the middle of the convention floor and sounded off; I like doing that.
After 1969, I was able to travel. So, I accepted an invitation from NCTA and from a consortium of cable manufacturers to work on two committees in Europe. I’m not sure I have the titles of the committees right. I just have to refer to my documents. Twelve-A was one of them–Twelve G, I’m sorry. Twelve G was wired distribution systems and my expenses were paid by NCTA; there was no honorarium. My expenses were paid for about two years to attend meetings of Twelve G and, in fact, I was eventually put on the editorial committee to straighten out the standards as they existed at that time. I can remember staying up all night in some obscure European town with scissors cutting up the early records, which were like ten chapters, and compressing them into one complete standard.
TAYLOR: This was the International Electric Technical Commission known as IEC?
SIMONS: Yes. The people I worked with were absolutely wonderful. Falk Peterson, for instance, from Norway and L. T. Mudd, from Redifusion and so on. I have a list of the people here. But, the meetings were fun and there was work to be done, it was very enjoyable and I was very sad when NCTA decided it was not necessary. I should say that none of the work that I do was ever recognized in this country because in this country we have no interest in international standards or had none at that time.
Much more fun was the work with the other group which was Forty-Six A radio frequency cable and I have in front of me one of my favorite documents because, as I would like to go into a little bit later, my hobby has been logarithms since the early days of cable. In trying to explain decibels, I got to understand them myself and from there I went on to doing quite a bit of writing on the subject at large. In fact, I have something submitted to Science Magazine right now. I doubt that it will be printed but anyway … Here’s a standard–“Subcommittee Forty-Six A, Group II, CATV Cables: A Proposal for standard size numbers for CATV cables.” And, it goes on to present a way of standardizing cables which does not hurt anybody because by using enough size you come out to pretty much matching everybody’s size. But, this was greeted with absolute frigidity by the committee. Not a single cable manufacturer wanted any part of it.
I think–I’m not sure who was on that committee. I was chairman of the committee but I was not able to push this through. It was fun trying. But, even more interesting, was the Committee 46A Working Group I, screening efficiency–in other words shielding–and I got tremendously interested in that problem. The IEC had used up to that time a fixture called a “triaxial” fixture which measured leakage, shield efficiency, but to interpret that in real terms, in terms of what is called transfer impedance, you had to use some equations that filled about two pages and nobody ever did. It was one of those standards that is obeyed more in the neglect than in the use. Anyway, I got enough interest in this that I spent at least a year, probably two years, of Jerrold’s time designing and building a new shielding efficiency fixture which I called the “terminated triaxial fixture” and it was accepted by the committee and, is still the international standard for measuring such matters.
TAYLOR: This is also an IEC standard?
SIMONS: Yeah, an IEC standard. And, unfortunately, in this country, the Belden SEED jig had been used widely, although it is, if anything, a little worse than the triaxial. Measurement has no relation to any physical constant of the shield and, in fact, I got hold of one and analyzed it mathematically and physically and found out the equations that went with it. My equations were simpler; so, I liked my jig better.
So, that work went on for several years until the people who were paying for it got tired of paying for it and I was out of a job with the IEC and about the same time I resigned from Jerrold, simply because the only work I had to do for Jerrold–I was vice president of research and development–and there was no research and development. We didn’t work on a single thing that went beyond next year’s product. This had been going on for six to eight years. So that, in effect, I had an empty title; they kept me busy putting out fires. I was involved in trying to build a protector for the Hewlett Packard amplifier that would prevent it from being blown out every time somebody sneezed. But, no real work at all. So I finally gave up and quit.
TAYLOR: What year was that?
SIMONS: Well, the last work I did for them was in 1976.
TAYLOR: This is for the IEC group?
SIMONS: Now, two other things that I would like to say which are more or less personal to me but are part of cable history. I received, in 1982, a document from a friend Heinz Brand who was the leading cable engineer in Switzerland. He worked for the PTT. Heinz had done a study for the PTT on the most efficient way of wiring his particular town, the town of Thun. He picked that simply as an example and he worked out in tremendous detail the most efficient way of bringing cable TV to the people of Thun.
TAYLOR: For the transcriber, Thun is spelled “T H U N.” Am I correct?
SIMONS: Yeah! His system, which he describes in the title of the paper, “The Analysis of a Modern CATV System and Study of An Optical Fiber Local Network.” And, he proposed a network where you had a central hub and a distribution on single fibers to each home so that you have in fact a telephone system, except with fibers with enough bandwidth to handle pictures.
TAYLOR: What year was that?
SIMONS: At that time I wrote an article for CATJ–I don’t remember the details–but I do know that we offered to sell a copy of this booklet at cost of reproduction basically and had no takers whatsoever. Nobody in 1982 was interested in fiber optics networks.
TAYLOR: Not even Bob Cooper?
SIMONS: We got no takers. Anyway, from then until now, I have been fascinated with the possibilities of this way of doing things and I have here an Application for Patent Search. My patent attorneys assured me that my concept wasn’t good enough to patent; there wasn’t enough unique in it. But, this was two years ago, now. I was very anxious to establish a switching type distribution. The chief reason being my complete unhappiness with the way television is now done. The domination of the advertiser in television makes it a completely unsatisfactory media. You have your choice of listening to the PBS people begging for money or watching lousy ads and there’s nothing else in between. And, I think, from a standpoint of economics, if you divide … In the first place, the American consumer is now paying for every single program he watches. You can be sure that the broadcaster does not give anything away. So, if you subtract the cost of advertising and the preparation of the advertising from the overall budget, the American people would pay less for its entertainment, if it didn’t have advertising, than it pays now. So we all would be better off and have quieter lives and better selections, if we had a glass fiber with a push button attached to select what we want and pay for what we get. And, the people who run cable have done a great disservice, I think, to this concept by charging, when they have pay-per-view, they charge absolutely, utterly ridiculous prices because they have so few takers. They charge $20 or $30 to watch a prize fight. Now, in real life, if we had a workable fiber optic system, which we have, I mean the elements are all there, the cost for any good program might be $0.10 or $0.20; it wouldn’t be any more than that. Our monthly bill for cable wouldn’t be any bigger than it is now, except that we wouldn’t have to watch a whole lot of things we don’t like. Anyway, I’m maybe five years ahead on that but there was a wonderful program on CBS, General Telephone demonstrated exactly my system in California last week.
TAYLOR: This is the Cerritos project in California.
SIMONS: Yes. And, they showed a bunch of push buttons like this. Did my heart good. I wrote a–this is a diatribe on the subject.
TAYLOR: Are any of these materials such that we can make them available to the Center? By copying, if necessary?
SIMONS: Yeah! I can copy them. I don’t think you want–this is highly technical on the triaxial.
TAYLOR: I am not so sure I would say that.
SIMONS: I can just take the whole works down to the copy place. In fact, I can have copies made between now and two o’clock.
TAYLOR: I’m sure the Center would like to have them.
SIMONS: I think I can just donate this book of Heinz’s.
TAYLOR: Is this your only copy?
SIMONS: Yeah! Well, why don’t I get a quote.
TAYLOR: Yeah, okay. I can get a copy in Washington, if you can’t do it here. It’s probably the same mechanism.
SIMONS: Yes, it’s probably cheaper for you.
TAYLOR: Probably, yeah.
SIMONS: All right. The last thing–if I may be permitted ten minutes on decibels–I would like to review what I was able to do along those lines or what I tried to do. It all originated from cable because the–that’s another thing I might mention is the red book–it originated with the work I did on my red book. The red book is a technical handbook for cable which I generated. The first edition came out–I think–it doesn’t say–around ’58 or ’59. The way it happened was that Vic Nicholson had written a handbook which listed the DBJ, as it was then known, and what to do with it and so on. I took it and one page after another I rewrote–discovered I had rewritten the whole thing. Jerrold printed it as a technical handbook and it went through three editions, the final one being known as the redbook which contained the contents of the work I did in trying to sell the directional coupler to the cable operator and showing the horrendous problem you get into when you use pressure taps. One of the things I got into was considerable detail on use of the decibels. Among other things, I had a table in there for a way of finding the decibel number corresponding to the sum of the power represented by two other decibel numbers and discovered to my amazement that this was not a new idea at all and that it had been published in 1700 by Carl Frederick Gauss called “Gaussian logarithms” and invented in 1501 by an Italian. But, anyway.
TAYLOR: I would be interested if you have any referenced to that. How did you discover? You have some …
SIMONS: Somewhere, I have a file cabinet full of my logarithm references. Yeah, I have the …
TAYLOR: That’s an interesting bit of history that I would like to be able to reference it, if you can find it sometime.
SIMONS: Anyway, I fell in love with the concept of the decibel but arrived at the conclusion, which I think I can state it pretty clearly, and, that is, the Bell Laboratory engineers committed a tremendous sin against mankind when they pretended that log to the base 10 is called a “bell.” They considered the bell to be a unit of some sort; which it wasn’t. It was just a logarithm base 10 and then they proceeded to split it up into pieces and multiply by 10 and the confusion that resulted from the bell and the decibel isn’t finished now. Hardly anybody at this time understands the details of what’s good about and what’s bad about decibels. So I went around a number of circles trying to find what you might call a universal decibel. I wrote an article–a letter actually–for the IEEE Proceedings which took more than a year to get published because they had a reviewer, who I think it was Bruce Barrows, who tore the thing to pieces. He said, “You can’t do what you’re doing.” And, I said, “I can do what I’m doing. I can take the logarithm of anything I want to. You can’t tell me what I can do and what I can’t do.” Anyway, it eventually came to the point where I wrote to the senior editor and said, “Look these are my ideas. May I publish them?” And, he did. It’s there somewhere. But …
TAYLOR: Was this in the Proceedings?
SIMONS: Yeah! It’s about ’59, I guess.
TAYLOR: ’59. Oh, really.
SIMONS: It’s called the “DB Anything.” It can take the decibel of anything.
Around 1970, I wrote a book of many pages with a new concept called “ogs.” Now at this moment, I don’t remember what “ogs” are but “ogs” are variable base logarithms. They are always integers. So that you just multiply. Instead of multiplying by 10, you multiply by whatever it takes to get rid of the decimal point. And, I did an entire book of 300 pages or so on this and circulated copies, twenty copies, to everybody whom I thought might be interested–Scientific American, IEEE and so on. And, I got a universal groan; no interest whatsoever. I did get a lovely letter from one of the pioneers at Bell Labs, Green, who himself had written an article on decibels and knew what a pain in the neck they were and he was very positive. I still have his letter somewhere.
Anyway, I bumped my head against this particular wall a great many times. One of the, perhaps, more amusing attempts was a thing that Celeste Rule at CATJ printed called the “Gravelization of Spinach.” The general plot of which it was to try to make fun of the fact that the decibel ruined the logarithm. In the “Gravelization of Spinach” I have Ben Franklin inventing a system, in which what we now call percent where you multiply by 100 to get rid of the complications, but it was only to be used for the measuring amount of gravel in George Washington’s spinach. And, this is rather parallel to the situation of the decibel where you can only use it for certain things.
TAYLOR: That’s fascinating.
SIMONS: What’s that? Oh, that’s another subject.
Ten years ago now, I got an article published in Doctor Dobbs Journal of Computer Calisthenics and it was called “Nlogs” that was the same concept of “Ogs.” It was a kind of logarithms. Well, this is all, you know, what goes around comes around and nowadays, in 1992, I have dropped every pretense of the fact that we are using logarithms and I am proposing now that we use what I called “easy logarithms.” Just to make the contrast, hard logarithms are those that you find in a book which have mantissa and characteristic and the characteristic is always positive and they are a pain in the neck and its 9 minus 10 to the something–and it’s all unnecessary because the easy logarithm is the one you get when you punch a button on a calculator. And, it’s there; you say I want the logarithm of .20103 or .30103, it comes back and tells you what it is. And, we could use those as labels for everything and all of the scientific quantities and get rid of the scientific number which is actually a bastard hybrid, in that the first part is a number and the second part is an exponent. When you multiply, divide, or add you got to bring all the exponents in line. You don’t need to do any of those things because the calculator does it for you. If you have a number whose logarithm you know, you just punch them both into a calculator and it does it. So, all the problems that existed in the past are not there anymore and the log makes a wonderful label for everything. A lot of people have already recognized that. Every time you use a Richter scale, you are using a logarithm; every time you are talking about a star magnitude, you are using a logarithm and, of course, decibels. Except that, if we can bring the whole business out from under the shelters that have sheltered it–I mean the public doesn’t know that Mr. Richter who stole the idea from a Japanese person–used logarithms. Because the word logarithm scares everybody, they went through such trauma in high school when they …
TAYLOR: That’s because of that mantissa and characteristic.
TAYLOR: Just scared everybody.
SIMONS: So I think sir, this brings me to where I finish these reminiscences.
TAYLOR: Okay. I’m interested in all of this material. It’s interesting and historical material. And, that’s an awful bundle for you to handle, getting copied.
SIMONS: Well, why don’t I just turn it over to you and let you copy what you want.
TAYLOR: All right. Then, I’ll get it back to you.
SIMONS: Okay. I don’t think there is any need–I mean the handbook is so —
TAYLOR: Oh, no. The handbook is all right; I know that. I have the blue book and the red book; the green book is the original.
[The interview was resumed on March 9, 1992]
TAYLOR: We are back on the record and Ken is going to talk about another phase of the work he was involved in.
SIMONS: In ’75, I was asked–let me think. Who was the head of CTAC?
TAYLOR: Hub Schlafly was chairman.
SIMONS: It doesn’t matter. I was asked to be chairman of one of the panels of the Cable Television Technical Advisory Committee and went to Washington over a period of about a year and one half or two years.
TAYLOR: Something like that.
SIMONS: The Advisory Committee had the purpose of advising the FCC regarding such things as the technical standards for cable and my particular committee was in charge of measurements. Well, not to drag it out, I attended the meetings and the very first meeting–and I can remember very clearly–we were all conferring about how we are going to proceed and in the middle of the meeting Ike Blonder stood up and asked for the floor and we gave him the floor and he said, “Gentlemen, we aren’t going to accomplish anything with these meetings and I suggest that we all go home.” And, I always thought that was a very succinct remark, indicating considerable understanding of what was happening. Because what was happening was an exercise in political behavior of what we were doing satisfied a great many people that the cable industry were being allowed to help the FCC but there was no commitment on the side of the FCC to accept anything we did and, in fact, I don’t know that they did or didn’t, one way or the other. In my own case, I came to the end of the period, signed off the last meeting of the committee and went home and tried to figure out how to write a report because I couldn’t think of anything to write a report about. So I ended up writing a document which died about the time it was written, in which I attempted to point out to the FCC that a great deal of the problem that resulted from their technical regulations, resulted from the language in which these regulations were expressed and that I herewith submitted a format where the law could be expressed in English. And, I’m not sure if that went over with a great bang. It is true that there were some amazing things that were true about the original standards. As one of my committee members pointed out, the unit used to measure power, or power level, was expressed in at least six different ways during the course of the law. I shouldn’t criticize the law because I think very highly of the man who was responsible for most of it, Sid Lines–a very, very technically able man, who had a very tough job of being the chief engineer of the Commission at that time. But, as far as I can judge, very little came from the work of that Commission. That’s about all I have, Archer.
TAYLOR: One comment I would like to make and maybe ask your opinion. I firmly believe that the C-TAC was the idea patterned after the experience of the NTSC Committee and the TASO Committee, both of which had a direct and very significant impact on FCC rules as they finally came up. I know because I was in the group that met with Sol Schildhause and later with some of the commissioners in recommending or urging that such committee be established. I have to agree with you that the results were virtually negligible and that it would be hard to say that very much happened. The one thing that might come out of this though–out of the committee–was the leakage situation. Bob Powers picked that up and later went on and did considerable work and came in with recommendations which–well, not quite followed. They did go pretty much with what Bob and his team did. This was not the C-TAC that did the work but it triggered it–triggered Bob Powers who later was the chief scientist at the FCC. So, the interesting thing is why did the first and second NTSCs result in almost verbatim adoption by the FCC? The first NTSC, in 1941, actually became the television standards. Not much happened because we had the war-time freeze but when the second committee met in late ’40s, early ’50s–I’m just not sure–early ’50s I guess it was–the FCC was prepared to accept almost whatever they said. Now they were guided by some awfully big people, politically, RCA with its General Sarnoff, W. R. G. Baker, General Electric. And the leading broadcasters in the business. So that FCC really had more power behind it.
SIMONS: Wouldn’t you say that part of the reason for that was that the people who came forward with the standards for television were mostly fairly eminent people. In other words, the standing of some of those engineers, like Zworykin and the people who followed him, in their company were considerably better than our standing in our company. In cable, the promotion, the sales, the business end of it has always dominated the engineering end. I don’t think that was as much true in those other companies.
TAYLOR: Yeah! I think you are right. The cable television …
End of Tape 2, Side B
Start Tape 3, Side A
TAYLOR: We are back on the record, having changed the tape. This is the third tape, the first side, and I have asked Ken to take a long view of the future, cable television, in particular, and television in general.
SIMONS: Well, my present feeling about cable is, unless they marshal their forces and start doing something progressive along the lines of fiber optics–and I don’t mean fiber optics for long runs, I mean fiber optics into the home–unless, they do that, the whole thing will be taken away from them. The General Telephone Company has recently demonstrated what could be a very effective system which involves allowing the customer a choice of several thousand channels, allowing interaction, use the fiber for every purpose, replacing CDs, replacing video tapes and replacing everything in the home except the fiber. The point being that, in truth, if one eliminated the costs of pressing disks and the costs of making tapes and concentrated only on paying for the programming, the cost of the programming would be less and, particularly, if one eliminated the advertiser, as a means of bringing the programming, the cost would be less. The American people spend upwards of $3 or $4 billion a year supporting an advertising industry that gives them nothing but trouble. Every time you turn the set on, the thing you see is an ad. Everything you want to see is programming. If you don’t see the ad, you see the public broadcasting begging for money. There’s something wrong in the system where you can’t get the product you want and pay what it’s worth. What you get is a whole lot of other stuff you don’t want in order to finally get to the bottom of it and get the product you want, which is entertainment. Now I think that it is quite visionary to think that all of this could happen at once. The fiber optic to the home, I think, is inevitable. In fact, I believe I’ve been told, that the phone company routinely installs a fiber into your home whenever they put in a new telephone line. I wouldn’t be surprised. So that one of these days, the cable industry may well wake up to find that it doesn’t have customers anymore. That it has been replaced by a more efficient method of distributing entertainment. But, I think initially, even the phone company, will put out so-called “free-TV” namely, that which is not free from advertising and this will continue over a period of time until what I would hope will develop would be that the people will discover that the channels that don’t carry the advertising are so inexpensive that it is not worth putting up with the bother of the advertising. Of course, the sensible question here is “Aren’t we talking about eliminating the basis of the economy of America.” Well, I can’t feel that our economy depends entirely on TV advertising. I think there are plenty of other forms of advertising that will undoubtedly continue and the one that is particularly invasive and particularly hard on young people because they watch all this stuff, they are pulled every which way by all sorts of offers of this, offers of that. I think we will be better off without most of it. But, that’s just my own personal feeling; I happen to dislike TV advertising. I guess that’s my privilege.
Technically, I feel that the emphasis on HDTV is completely misguided. It seems to me that with the ample bandwidth that is allowed in a fiber optic system, allows for a variety of standards. What we should have is the cheapest way to bring color pictures into the home with high definition. Perhaps, that means a separate channel for red, blue and green, whatever. One of the classic mistakes, I think, in our history … We have two classic mistakes in the history of color television. One is the narrow bandwidth that is allowed for red so that we are all bugged with poor definition in the red part of the picture; and the other is the NTSC, “never twice the same color,” where we don’t use the half-line phase correction (PAL) that is used in Europe. It’s a shame we didn’t catch that in time to make it a standard for this country. But, those things are past and we have to start where we are.
One of the major advantages of one fiber per home or one fiber per receiver is that the standards of the receiver are flexible. You can have HDTV in the living room and standard television in your game room. And, none of this involves a tremendous expenditure. I know that a lot of the people who are in cable have a feeling of awe in regard to fiber optics but I’ve been working with fiber optics–I’m using laser diodes that cost $20 and photo diodes that cost $1.50–and I can get bandwidths of 200 or 300 megahertz, which is more than is needed in the operation we are talking about. But, for a home TV, I think a bandwidth of 50 megahertz is probably ample and I see no point in bandwidth compression. I see a point in digital transmission because it would allow repeating many, many times without deterioration. That’s certainly something that will happen and there will be the need for sending pictures by way of satellites and so on where signal noise ratios are a problem. So, I think digital TV is something that needs to be worked on but I do not see any room for the compression techniques as proposed. All of them date back to the days of picture-phone where Bell Lab did a tremendous amount of research in getting pictures over ordinary telephone lines and in the process they eliminated, or used compression techniques to eliminate, everything except that part of the picture that moved. Well, that might have been necessary at that time but it seems to me that the whole approach is completely obsolete by the fiber optic system. Bandwidth is cheap. And, by the same token, the delightful feature of the fiber is that it works equally well in both directions; you can transmit both ways simultaneously with no interference. And, that means you can have quiz programs where the participants are in the home, if that’s what you want. It has a tremendous future and as far as audio goes, you can have with each picture ten audio channels, so you can pick your language. With each program you can have participation, so that you can play the lottery from your home. That will be a tremendous advantage; I’m sure the American people will go for that. But, I think this will take a while to happen and I think that cable has another, probably, five to six years before the doom Bell sounds. And, I hope that those who are in charge of spending money in the various cable companies see fit to spend a good bit of it on exploring this new system and finding out just how cable can get into the act. Because if they don’t if the phone companies in fact take over entertainment distribution business, I don’t know what you are going to do with all those old amplifiers and cable.
TAYLOR: Let me ask you this switched arrangement that you are talking about for fiber is, of course, not new. Rediffusion did this a long time ago with a pair. Then Earl Hickman came along, in the latter days of the Ameco, is what he called the discade, which again was a switched attempt. The failure of that attempt probably had made to do with their economic position, generally, than with the viability of the idea. Rediffusion problems, of course, was that the technology was not really viable. The idea has been around for quite a while and under consideration. As a matter of fact, in the UK now, up until fairly recently, Cabletime has been providing things somewhat reminiscence of the Times Mini-Hub arrangement but the people who have installed the equipment in the UK, and many of them did because the act of authorizing cable gave you a franchise benefit, if you (1) used optical fiber and (2) if you had a switched star distribution network. So a good many of them put it in because they wanted to get the extra franchise period. But, there’s only one manufacturer–only one supplier–and they don’t even manufacture–it’s a contract manufacture. And, one of the people over there happens to be associated with Frank Ragone–the Comcast people have found failures with the system. But, then I don’t think you should blame the system because of the failure of particular components or particular manufacturer.
SIMONS: Well, it’s certainly true of the early days of telephone and they have a great deal to learn about reliability. You can sense this at the Bell Labs at the time I went there reliability was their middle name. When they wanted a twenty-year vacuum tube for their undersea repeater, they tested it for twenty years.
TAYLOR: I well recall a period right after World War II when the telephone plant had deteriorated–had not been maintained properly–and the failures that they had were just everywhere. Very disastrous for them.
SIMONS: Well, there are two things to be said about fiber optics that perhaps add to what I have said. First, as you can imagine with no trouble at all, the capital investment involved before you have one customer is incredible. You have to run miles and miles of thousand pair bundles of fiber and put in switching equipment–all of this is before there are any customers. So, it can only be done by someone with a tremendous capital background. The other thing is that is one of the things that seems to scare people is this idea of switching a thousand channels into a fiber. There are two things that make that work: (1) you don’t have to do the switching at light frequencies; you can do it before the modulator. So, if you are doing it at low VHF frequencies and secondly the techniques for doing that kind of switching have improved tremendously in the last number of years with the chip technology and the tiny little substrate kinds of things we build now days. I think a 256 x 256 switch is probably something that can be done right now.
TAYLOR: I’m sure that’s right. Another comment. I remember, oh, it must have been the early ’60s, I was in a meeting with NAB, National Association of Broadcast, people who were exploring the future of television and cable TV was one of the issues. So several of us were in the meeting. And, I made some comment, similar to the ones you made about advertising. And, Doug Anello, the general counsel, stood up and I thought he was going to physically lynch me. He was so mad and he was going to make me get out of the room. I was so such a bad person. Which gives you an idea of how much the broadcasters actually depend upon advertising and feel that anything that affects that is certainly to their detriment.
SIMONS: One of the things that isn’t said here, but is rather obvious, is that the properly organized switched fiber optic system just about eliminates the broadcaster.
TAYLOR: That’s a story I heard way back when we were working in Montana with the cable television. This was in the ’50s. And, Ed Craney who was Mr. Television for the inland empire, anyway–Mr. Elroy McCall who was Mr. Broadcasting in the far northwest. But, Craney used to say that this cable television–CATV, of course we didn’t have cable television at that time–CATV was going to wipe out broadcasting and that will be the end of it. And, you know how bad that is.
SIMONS: Well, my feeling is this. It seems to me that the organizations such as NBC, CBS, are beautiful organizations; they do excellent things and nobody wants to eliminate them. What you do is turn off their transmitter.
TAYLOR: And, everybody needs program producers which is what they are, primarily. They also happen to be advertising agencies which is the other side of their business that is a little different. And, that’s the one I think they feel is going to lose them the money.
SIMONS: I think the thing that gets to me regards to advertising is that in this society where we are using up the resources of our environment at a horrendous rate–we are about to run ourselves into the ground by waste we generate and so on–something like 50 percent of that waste represents advertising. We have waste time on the air that is advertising; we have waste paper that comes into my house. I lug at least two or three big bins full of junk down the hill every week and I am a single individual. The waste is just fantastic. I get these beautifully colored printed folders with eight or ten pages in it; it must cost a bundle to make and they go out to the trash–I don’t even look at them.
TAYLOR: Well, I think probably we have explored the technology; we are not getting into the philosophy which is very important and very interesting. But, I do appreciate your cooperation on this. I might say that I am going to acquire a recorder to attach to the telephone and in case further questions that I would like to raise, I might give you a call on the telephone and we will take it that way.
I’ll terminate the tape at this time and thank you very much.
End of Tape 3, Side A
I would like to add one story from the early days:
In the late ’50s Milt was asked by Sumner Sewell, owner of a system in Bath, Maine, and recent ex-governor of the state, if Milt could find him an antenna capable of receiving Boston, 200 miles away.
Milt was in touch with a Dr. Booker at, I think, Harvard, who had designed a unique rhombic, about a half-mile long, and about a hundred yards across. The doctor was of the opinion that this would do the job.
We mounted a safari to Bath. Milt and I, together with a team from Vee DX who provided the 65 foot towers. I took my wife and family.
The ground where the towers were erected was a little swampy. After the towers had been erected it was necessary for someone to climb each of the side poles to be sure the rope behaved right as the antenna was pulled into place. The tower people wouldn’t climb because they were afraid the footings would pull out under the strain.
We had reached an impasse, until to my horror, Milt started climbing one of the poles. Unfortunately my ten year old son was there and I couldn’t chicken out in front of him. That climb was a few of the very worst moments in my life!
Nothing bad happened and the antenna went up. Unfortunately the antenna didn’t work very well and was later replaced with an ordinary array.
As a side note, Reta, my wife, asked Sumner Sewell where she could cash a check. He said, “How about my bank?” “Where could we swim?” “My beach.” “Lobsters?” “My pound.” We got the feeling that he was quite an important man in Bath!
I can also tell a story about the first cable Engineering Award at Anaheim:
For about ten years prior to that event, it was the yearly custom at Jerrold to hold a banquet to honor the “salesman of the year.” This was an elaborate affair complete with speeches and a gift (usually a watch) to the lucky man. This procedure did not have an encouraging effect on the engineers who worked just as hard, but got no awards.
Thus it was somewhat of a surprise to me to hear that I had been nominated for an engineering award. Two things conspired to take all the fun out of the event.
One thing that didn’t sit well was that I received it jointly with one of the system owners, my good friend Don Levenson. I had been doing cable engineering work for at least ten years. Don had very capably worked out one engineering project.
The other event took place after the ceremony. As I walked back towards the Jerrold suite filled with the “thrill of victory,” I passed the Chairman of the Board of my company. Not only did he not congratulate me, he didn’t even recognize me! And they wonder why America has trouble finding competent, motivated technical people!