Lectrosonics Celebrates 40 Years

Apr 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Tom Kenny

COMMITMENT TO USERS KEEPS WIRELESS MANUFACTURER CHURNING

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Gordon Moore, VP of sales, still has fun at work.

Gordon Moore, VP of sales, still has fun at work.

BECOMING WIRELESS
Fisher joined the company in 1972, a time when there were 17 employees and a single product: the battery-powered Voice Projector. “I had a small sound company that carried Phase Linear, Crown, JBL, Altec Lansing…and we also made touring speakers for rock ’n’ roll bands,” he recalls. “Right about the time my partner left me high and dry and moved to California, I ran into the president of Lectrosonics. They needed hot glue for a Tolex covering machine—we put Tolex, which is really a book-binding glue, all over cabinets at the time. He came over to pick some up, we got to talking, and a week later he called and asked whether I would be willing to do some design work. I worked for a year as a consultant and then was hired as a designer full-time.

Director of business development Karl Winkler

Director of business development Karl Winkler

“At the time, the company made battery-powered lectern and over-the-shoulder units,” he continues. “They were good quality, but anybody could build those kinds of things in their basement. There was no high-tech to them. Now I didn’t know a lot about electronics at the time. My background was in physics, but I learned electronics while here at the company—a soldering iron in one hand and an RCA transistor book in the other. Then about six months into the job, we hired another chap who was instrumental in designing the early wireless: Gail Graham. He was working with Ralph Belgique from Comtek, and Ralph actually designed the first low-band wireless we had, the M30 30-megacycle equipment. The problem was radiating enough power at 30 because the wavelengths are incredibly long and you can’t get an antenna that long. The effective range was about 50 feet. After about a year or so of selling the product, Gail and I redesigned what we called unichannel construction, which used crystal filters in the IF stage. The crystal filters were very narrow, and they brought the bandwidth of the receiver down very, very narrow. The 30 megacycles sat smack-dab in the middle of what we called the business band at the time, where there are about four or five frequencies set apart for low-power devices. By restricting the receiver to pick up only those narrow, low-power channels, we sidestepped a lot of interference. That made the units quite a bit better.”

Those early efforts were attached to the portable P.A., and the head of sales proved to be something of a wireless evangelist. But at the time, the company was exploring other avenues, including ill-fated efforts at a talking blackboard and a venture into guitar pickups that led to some serious financial hardship. The investors recruited a new president, John Arasim, who immediately refocused the company on wireless development and pulled Fisher and Graham out of management and made them lead designers.

They designed the next generation of wireless and released the CR185 and M185, miniature systems that operated in the VHF band at 180 cycles. Vega was the company’s chief competitor at the time, and while Fisher acknowledges that the Vegas might have sounded a tad better, the Lectrosonics units proved more reliable and interference-free because the crystal filters in the high band brought a narrower focus, and the emerging market in broadcast appreciated the XLR out.

Broadcast stations (and later film production companies) became Lectrosonics’ largest market and remain so today. The 185 became the 195, which gave way to the frequency-agile 200 Series and culminated in Digital Hybrid Wireless in 2002, eliminating the compandor from the audio electronics. In a sense, the company grew hand in hand with the emerging wireless industry.

“In the beginning, the late ’80s and early ’90s, my primary job was to get customers past the notion that wireless was a dirty word,” Moore says. “First we had to show sound mixers that wireless was reliable, then we had to show them that it could sound good. We came out with dual-band companding in 1993, and that was better, but the Holy Grail was getting rid of the compandor altogether, which we did with Digital Hybrid about 10 years later. We learned more from our customers than you can imagine. The end-users really drive this company. Those film guys are real golden ears, and they cannot have down time during production.”

While all this development was going on in the late 1980s, an engineer named Mike Sims knocked on the door looking for an audio job. After a lunch with Arasim and Fisher, he was hired, even though there was no job available. He became sort of a one-man band and developed the company’s entry into audio processing, starting with the MAP system in 1990. That became the AM Series, then the DM Series, and later, with the real push into DSP, the ASPEN Series of processors and automated mixers. It was also Lectrosonics’ entry into the systems contracting market. Today, you will find these Lectro products in courtrooms, boardrooms, schools, entertainment centers and convention halls around the world.






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