GatesAir’s 100 Years of History in Pictures
Photos span nearly all decades of the company’s existence, many of which have never been published
The author of this story is a representative of GatesAir.
GatesAir celebrates a rare business milestone this year as the company turns 100. Founded in 1922, Gates Radio Company was established in Quincy, Illinois by Henry and Cora B. Gates and their son, Parker, who at 14 was the company’s engineering visionary. Parker would later lead Gates Radio and Supply Company, which was sold to Harris Intertype in 1957 and later became a part of Harris Corporation. Shortly upon its divestiture from Harris, the Gates family name was returned to the company in honor of its roots. This photo essay offers visual highlights spanning nearly all decades of the company’s existence, many of which have never been published.
In early 1929, Gates Radio moved across Washington Park to a three-story building at 115 North Fourth that gave the company more floor space and included an elevator. The first floor and mezzanine were office and display areas. Henry Gates sits at a desk on the right side of the room. At right standing is Clinton Norris, the first employee hired by Gates Radio; Parker Gates is at center. Gates equipment visible includes amplifiers with a speaker on top at right, and a square headed microphone on the metal sewing table. That same year, a condenser microphone was added to the product line, which had already grown to include transcription turntables and the Motio-tone, a system of 16-inch sound discs for motion pictures. (Picture provided by Janet Conover Gates)
In 1936, the industry’s first 250-watt broadcast transmitter was manufactured by Gates Radio and sold to station WJMS-AM in Ironwood, Michigan, for $2,750. The closest competition at the time was a 100-watt model priced at $8,400. RCA and Western Electric had strong patents in the field, making Gates’ achievement all the more impressive. (Picture provided by Janet Conover Gates)
GatesAir opened this “annex” at 30th and Broadway in Quincy in 1953. Its largest plant to date, it was opened to accommodate the growing business that had begun to outgrow its 124 Hampshire location, which opened in 1945. GatesAir historian John Schneider notes that both locations were closed down in 1977, when the company moved all US operations to 3200 Wismann Lane, which remains the company’s worldwide manufacturing headquarters. The 30th and Broadway location is today home to a CVS drug store. (Picture provided by John Schneider)
An unknown Army Radio announcer broadcasts over a Gates Radio SA-40 console from KOLD studios in Thule, Greenland in 1955. The SA-40 was a nine-channel mono console manufactured from 1949 through the early 1950s. A Gates Radio 12-inch transcription turntable with a Grey Research tonearm is seen in the forefront. These turntables predated the 45rpm era, supporting 33 and 78 speeds. (Picture provided by John Schneider)
Parker Gates’ vision grew from a home-based family business to a global company with a corporate structure over the company’s first three decades. This image was from 1957, when they were acquired by Harris Intertype. Company leadership in this 1957 photo: Bottom Row: A.S. Petzold, Parker Gates, George Dively (president of Harris Intertype) and Lawrence J. Cervone. Top: Norbert “Nibs” L. Jochem, Roger M. Veach, unknown, L.I. McEwen, and John Bowers. (Picture provided by John Schneider)
This 1950s-era photo shows an audience in front of a Gates Radio 20kW shortwave transmitter. According to Geoff Mendenhall, who spent much of his broadcast career at Harris, the predecessor of GatesAir, in engineering leadership roles, high-power shortwave and medium wave were important components of GatesAir’s international growth. He recalls that the company won substantial international shortwave projects into the mid-1980s. (Picture provided by John Schneider)
General manager Dave Morris (right) of Houston AM-FM station KNUZ was presented Harris’ first Vanguard I transmitter in 1960s by a Texas-based Harris sales representative – curiously named London England. The Vanguard Series were 1kW AM transmitters available from 1966-1968. They used low-level modulation and were considered all transistor designs with a single tube – all considering engineering marvels for the time period. (Picture provided by Bob Weirather)
This 1950s Gates transmitter was originally installed at WMTM-AM in Moultrie, GA. WJSB-AM (Crestview Broadcasting) purchased it in 1970 and modified it into a 5kw transmitter that remains operational today. (Picture provided by Cullen Zethmayr)
According to Bob Weirather, who spent 30 years at Harris in engineering and leadership roles, the 1970s was when the TV side of the business really started to evolve. A Gates FM Series UHF transmitter is seen installed at WDCA-TV in Washington DC in 1971. Over subsequent decades, the TV business would grow and go global. The radio and TV business units work closer today than ever, and most of their transmitters share common high-efficiency designs and parts. (Picture provided by Bob Weirather)
Hilmer Swanson (forefront) spent the final 35 years of his engineering career with Gates Radio and Harris until his 1999 retirement. Chief among his innovations were the industry’s first Pulse Duration Modulation AM and the first all-digital AM transmitter branded DX. Geoff Mendenhall, who spent much of his broadcast career at Harris and GatesAir in engineering leadership roles, calls Swanson “the forefather of all modern, high-efficiency, AM modulation technologies and the giant among GatesAir’s legacy” of engineers. Swanson is pictured here in 1994 testing a 1,000,000 Watt DX AM radio transmitter, a transmitter line with digital modulation he innovated in 1987. GatesAir (then Harris) had shipped more than 1500 units worldwide by 2004, many of which remain in operation today. Dave Kerker, a longtime technician at Harris is seen in the background. (Picture provided by John Schnieder)
GatesAir has continued to leverage efficiency improvements in solid-state technology to grow its Flexiva FM radio and Maxiva TV/DAB transmitters. The introduction of the Flexiva FLX transmitter in 2016 represented an important new phase as an ultra-high-efficiency liquid-cooled transmitter to serve higher power levels. WEBE in Bridgeport, CT was among the first to install an FLX transmitter. This picture was taken within weeks of being brought to air in 2017. At left is Dave Supplee of Cumulus Media, with Peter Partineo of systems integration firm RES at right.
Never Forget: 9/11 was the most profound US tragedy of our lifetimes. Bob Ross, a retired CBS Engineering executive, recalled that CBS lost two employees and some transmitters when the towers fell. A 34-year old Harris tube remained on the Empire State Building. “Harris brought in an original design engineer of that transmitter who had retired, and within one day they machined and shipped parts so we could rebuild the cavity and return to full power. That is customer service.” Current GatesAir Chief Revenue Officer Joe Mack shares that the company “threw out the playbook” for ordering transmitters to bring NYC broadcasters back to air quickly. This photo shows the 1 World Trade Center transmitter room today, which includes GatesAir TV and Radio transmitters. From L to R: Mark Voorhees, Senior Director of Sales, Key Accounts for GatesAir; John Byrne, Director of Engineering, CBS TV Stations; Jeff Birch, VP of Engineering, TV Stations; GatesAir’s Mack; Bruce Swail, CEO, GatesAir; and Richard Mulliner, Chief Engineer, WCBS-TV and WLNY-TV.
A recent image of the 3200 Wismann Lane office in Quincy featuring the extended GatesAir family. Quincy remains the company’s main manufacturing center, and is where all TV and Radio transmitters are built and assembled today.
[Related: “GatesRadio Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary”]