Remembering the Gates Radio Company: Photo Essay
     

The announcement of the sale of Harris Corp.’s Broadcast Division has caused many people to reflect on the long history of that iconic broadcast manufacturer. The Gores Group becomes just the third owner of one of the world’s major broadcast suppliers, and in the process it inherits that company’s 90-year history.

This is a quick look back at that history and some of the company’s important products. (Photo essay begins at the bottom of this page.)

Henry C. and Cora B. Gates founded the Gates Radio & Supply Company in 1922 in the kitchen pantry of their apartment in Quincy, Ill., primarily to create a job for their son, Parker S. Gates, who was only 15 years old at the time. He began by selling crystal radios to friends and neighbors in the community.

It would be the only place Parker would ever work.

Parker had always tinkered with electronics, along with his Quincy school chum Elmer Wavering. The two boys put together an early automobile radio to impress their girlfriends, and in the process solved the thorny issues of ignition and multi-vibrator interference that had prevented reception in a vehicle.

Wavering later partnered with Paul Galvin of Chicago to develop and market car radios under the name Motorola, while Parker stayed in Quincy and got into the manufacturing business.

Gates Radio & Supply Company soon became a serious enterprise, and Parker’s father quit his job to head the family business, which they moved into a second floor commercial space in downtown Quincy.

The first major product that Parker developed was a sound system used in early “talkie” movie theaters around the country. The Gates family also developed and sold a broadcast remote amplifier, a transcription turntable and a compact condenser microphone.

BUSINESS BOOM
Two more moves to increasingly larger factory space took place in the 1930s. In the middle of that decade, Gates built one of the industry’s first audio consoles and introduced its first AM transmitter, the 250 Watt model 100A (a restored unit is on display today in the Harris lobby in Quincy).

The war years brought more work when the Gates Radio Company received several subcontracts from RCA for the manufacturing of military shortwave transmitters. Gates purchased a larger factory located on the Mississippi River in Quincy in 1945, and then in 1953 constructed an even larger building.

By the 1950s, Gates Radio had become one of the country’s principal radio equipment suppliers — a major provider of audio consoles, turntables, AM, FM and shortwave radio transmitters and accessories. It also made its first forays into the new field of television at that time.

In December 1957, Harris Intertype Corp., a lithography and typesetting conglomerate that was making its first venture into the field of electronics, acquired the company. Parker Gates stayed on as the president of the division, which gradually phased in the Harris name and is today known as Harris Broadcast Communications.

For many years, however, Parker Gates remained, graduating from president to adviser, staying in touch with his many employees, customers and friends via his ham radio station, W9DZT.

In succeeding decades, Harris became a leader in broadcast technology with innovative FM and TV transmitters — including multi-megawatt AM systems, new AM techniques such as pulse width and digital modulation and some of the industry’s first solid-state AM, FM and TV transmitters.

A full line of television products also was created through both in-house development and corporate acquisitions. More recently, Harris worked closely with the Advanced Television Systems Committee and Zenith/LG to perfect and introduce an over-the-air mobile digital television technology that is just now being introduced to consumers

The company consolidated operations into its present 40-acre factory complex in Quincy in 1977. The senior management, product line management and R&D team moved to Mason, Ohio, in 1998, and later moved its management offices to Englewood, Colorado, in 2010. But the primary manufacturing facility has always remained in Quincy.

Harris Broadcast made many acquisitions over the years, including radio companies Allied Broadcast, Intraplex and Pacific Research & Engineering (PR&E), as well as a number of notable television acquisitions. In the process, the company’s engineers made important contributions into the development of high-definition television and HD Radio technology

In 1992, the Harris Broadcast Division celebrated its 70th anniversary by naming a Quincy street “Parker Gates Avenue.” Parker S. Gates died on Sept. 16, 1986, at the age of 79. His wife Millie and their three daughters still live in Quincy, where Millie recently celebrated her 101st birthday.

Ed. Note: The Gates name was revived in March 2014 when Harris Broadcast, no longer part of Harris Corp., renamed its transmission business as GatesAir.

Comment on this or any story. Write to radioworld@nbmedia.com.

John Schneider is a lifelong radio history researcher. Write him at jschneid93@gmail.com. This is one in a series of photo features from his collection. See past images under Columns/Roots of Radio at radioworld.com.

One of the earliest businesses of the Gates Radio and Supply Company was the manufacture and rental of sound amplifying equipment. This is one of two ‘field trucks’ that the company used to provide public address facilities at public events.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Janet Gates Conover
 
This building at 220 Hampshire Street became the fourth home of the Gates Radio and Supply Company in 1938. Many transmitters were built here to support the military in World War II. Parker Gates was one of a handful of civilians who learned of the D-Day plan ahead of time, and the company was contracted to provide transmitters for the invasion. The factory ran around the clock for nearly 30 days producing transmitters for the battle. Cots were set up in the factory for the employees to take short naps and then they would go back to work.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Janet Gates Conover
 
In 1945, the Gates Radio Company purchased a group of buildings on 123 Hampshire St. just one block up the hill from the Mississippi River in Quincy. Another factory building was built on Broadway Street in 1953, and the two buildings were used until the company consolidated all operations at the present location on Wisman Lane in 1977. The Hampshire Street factory was demolished in 2010.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Janet Gates Conover
 
The Gates management team is seen inspecting a new Gates M5530 preamplifier. The photo was taken in December, 1957, the month that Harris Intertype Corp. acquired Gates Radio. Front row: Norbert L. Jochem, director of engineering; Parker S. Gates, president; L. I. McEwen, executive vice president; Larry J. Cervone, sales manager. Back: Howard A. Young, plant manager; A.S. Petzoldt, comptroller/secretary; Roger M. Veach, director of personnel & public relations; Ray Jochem, credit manager; John Bowers, director of purchasing.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Janet Gates Conover
 
One of the Gates Radio Company’s biggest projects was to supply the studio equipment for the Voice of America headquarters in Washington. The contract was awarded in May of 1954, and final delivery was completed by August of 1955. It included this custom-built audio console, 22 feet long and 6 feet high, that could switch any one of 100 inputs to 25 outputs. There were also dozens of consoles for the individual studios and 65 racks of supporting equipment. It was all installed on the second floor of the Health Education and Welfare building on the National Mall. In this 1967 image, VOA engineer James A. Boyd selects the programs to be sent to shortwave transmitters in North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and California.
 
Here is the very first 50 kW AM transmitter built by the Gates Radio Company. This BC-50B was sold to XET in Monterrey, Mexico, around 1956, where it is still installed (although no longer operational).
 
WTSP(AM) St. Petersburg, Fla., circa 1949. Glen Dill is seen in the control room. He was the morning man at WTSP from 1947 to 1957. The console is a post-war Gates Model 30 and was mounted in a walnut cabinet. It was soon redesigned to become the popular SA-40, which had a cast aluminum cabinet and one more audio channel.
 
WCCF(AM) Punta Gorda, Fla., 1961. Chief Engineer Bill Setliffe is seated in the control room, preparing the new station for its on-air debut. The console is a Gates Yard, the most compact audio console available at the time, aptly named for its 36-inch width. It was immensely popular because of its modest price and minimal use of valuable control room real estate. Other Gates products seen here are the Gates Cartritape tape cartridge machines and CB-500 Turntables.
 
WQMR(AM)/WGAY(FM) in Silver Spring, Md., 1965. Tom DeBray is seen at the helm of another Gates Yard console.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Bill Halvorson
 
WBYO(FM), Boyerstown, Pa., 1989. Station owner and founder David Hendricks is seated at the controls of the imposing Gates Executive console.

Founders of Gates Radio Co., shown in a company catalog of the late 1930s.


Customer training at the factory in the 1950s, with a Gates 20 kW shortwave transmitter. Photo courtesy Janet Gates Conover.


Gates Broadway. This was the company’s sixth location, a new factory built in the late 1950s at 30th and Broadway Streets, Quincy. Photo courtesy Janet Gates Conover.


Gates Radio management, 1957. Bottom row: A.S. Petzold, Parker Gates, George Dively (president of Harris Intertype) and Lawrence J. Cervone. Top: Norbert L. Jochem, Roger M. Veach, unknown, L.I. McEwen, unknown. Photo courtesy Janet Gates Conover.


Gates ST-101 Spot Tape was a 101-track tape player introduced in 1959; it quickly became obsolete after the introduction of the tape cartridge machine. Photo by John Schneider.


BC250 transmitter, at Radio Universidad in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Photo by John Schneider.



Rating People: 16   Average Rating:     
Comment List:

I have always been interested in the GATES Radio Company. CJFX Radio in Antigonish Nova Scotia was a major user of GATES electronics with racks full of tube equipment.My dad was assistant manager and then general manager of the station which played a vital part in the work of the Antigonish Movement, leading to the formation of the Cody International Institute. GATES was the last word in tough, electronics that were like the famous TIMEX watches. The main racks were in the production control room and on a winters night one appreciated the warmth from all those tubes. In the period from the 1950's through to the 1970's CJFX used an RCA transmitter which could not be modulated as well as it should have been. I was of the opinion that a GATES transmitter would have been a better choice.
By Rev. Peter Rafuse on 6/2/2014
Very interesting. I just found out that my father Ogden Straub played with Parker Gates in Quincy's Tivoli Orchestra in 1928. All of the orchestra members were graduates of Quincy High School -- Gates (sax), my father (cornet), Don Ahrens (sax), "Bud" Cody (drums), Mildred "Mim" Broderick (piano), Addison Pellman (trumpet) and Marshall Smelser (trombone). Thanks for the memories!
By William Straub on 3/13/2013
Great article on Gates. How many of us have cued a record on a Gates turntable, pushed the red button on a 101 spotmaster and sent the audio through a Gates limiter to a Gates 250 transmitter? And the photo of the VOA audio console was meaningful to me as a sometime VOA stringer. To think my voice has been through that console was a trip down memory lane.
By Mike McClain on 3/6/2013

Post your comment

Your Name:  Required
Your Mail:       Your email will not be published.
Your Site:    

max. 800 characters


Posts are reviewed before publication, typically the next business morning. Radio World encourages multiple viewpoints, though a post will be blocked if it contains abusive language, or is repetitive or spam. Thank you for commenting!