Charlie Goodrich is truly a Radio Good Guy. As a youngster listening to riverboat radio communications in hometown Omaha, Neb., almost 60 years ago, he got forever hooked on the art and the science of radio. Goodrich is in that rare class of engineers who have always been willing and ready to help those in need of technical assistance, no matter the circumstances or time of night.
Charlie Goodrich works on a transmitter. As the longtime director of engineering of McMartin Industries, and now the owner of Goodrich Enterprises, he has continued to work full-time doing what he loves best: building and repairing transmitters. Radio World Technical Advisor Tom McGinley interviewed Charlie Goodrich and shares the story of his long and colorful career.
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you get involved in radio, later broadcast engineering, and what was the main attraction for you?
I was a youngster at age 11 years who got attracted to electronics in grade school after listening to boats on the Missouri River on an old Howard 430 shortwave receiver. I also had a friend who had taken Cleveland Radio Institute and National Radio Institute correspondence courses and gave me all of the old books. So I studied them in grade school and wound up getting a ham operator’s license in 1954 or 1955.
While attending high school, I got my Amateur Extra License, First Class Radiotelephone License With Radar Endorsement and Second Class Radio Telegraph License. Three days after graduating from high school, I acquired a job at radio station KOIL as summer relief engineer watching over a Gates BC-5P and a Gates 1 kW FM transmitter.
While in high school, I first built a Heathkit AT-1 ham transmitter, and after that many ham transmitters, using TZ40, TZ55, 833s and 4-400 tubes. I built the first carrier-current transmitter for Omaha University. The year after high school, I went to college and continued working for KOIL, advancing to chief engineer.
I always loved building transmitters from scratch, and spent my spare time building rather than operating. The attraction was making higher and higher power with bigger parts and bigger sparks. While at KOIL, they also had me build a news audio console fashioned somewhat like the Gates President line.
After seven years with KOIL under Don Burden’s ownership, I left in early 1966.
What is your educational background, Charlie?
I studied electrical engineering and earned a BSEE from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, while I was working for KOIL. Later, I also completed a few graduate business courses.
What were you doing before meeting and going to work for Ray McMartin?
After leaving KOIL, I took a job at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, Calif., in 1966 and 1967, working on the Agena space vehicle as a project and metrology engineer. At that time, I operated a homebrew transmitter with a pair of 4-400 tubes out of the trunk of my car.
I found the large corporate world a little restraining, decided to move back to Omaha and got a job at McMartin Industries as a design engineer.
McMartin B910 exciter Ray McMartin had just secured a contract with Visual Electronics to build 100 solid-state audio consoles. I designed the Visual 8×1 mono and 8×2 stereo audio consoles, which we introduced at the 1968 NAB at the Conrad Hilton in Chicago. These were the first consoles with solid-state interchangeable plug-in cards. We later modified these consoles with the McMartin name as the B-801 mono and B-802 stereo eight-channel consoles.
A lot of us remember the McMartin line of broadcast products, most notably the AM and FM transmitters, exciters, modulation monitors and audio consoles. Could you tell us more about the overall product line?
The McMartin broadcast product line in the early days was known for the modulation monitors. Leonard Hedlund had designed the monitors, and in 1968 introduced the TBM-4500A solid-state 3 meter unit, which became the standard of the industry for many years. There are still many in operation.
Later, McMartin introduced the TBM-3500 mono, TBM-2200 stereo and the TBM-2500 RF amp, a three-unit package. In the early ’70s, McMartin went into the exciter business, so they had me design the B-910 fifteen-watt solid-state exciter with plug-in modules. This unit was extremely successful because of the introduction of the new bullet-proof strip line RF transistors made by CTC. McMartin built and sold over 2,000 of these exciters. We built these continuously until the late ’70s when we introduced the smaller BFM-8000 unit.
After having an exciter available in the early ’70s, McMartin decided to go into the transmitter business. They first contracted a couple of outside engineers who had just left Collins Radio to build a 1 kW AM transmitter, but that project failed, so they asked me if I could build one in late 1971. I said yes and had the BA-1K ready for the NAB show in ’72. The transmitter was accepted very well, and I remember we sold 15 units to one customer in Mexico that year at NAB. The following year, I designed the McMartin BF-3.5K FM transmitter, which was the most successful model in the FM line.
I continued building these at Goodrich Enterprises up until around 2000. Starting around 1990, I also started buying back used McMartin transmitters for refurbishing and reselling to the marketplace. Overall, including all models McMartin manufactured, around 1,000 transmitters were built. I estimate about 100 to 200 are still in operation.
Were you directly involved in the design of most of the McMartin product line? Who were the principal designers?
When I went to McMartin in late 1967, I was the sole audio console, RF exciter and transmitter design engineer. After we got rolling in the mid ’70s with the BA-1K AM and BF-3.5K FM transmitters, we hired Juan Gregorio, an engineer from another company to help with the workload. He developed the McMartin BA-2.5K 2,500 watt AM transmitter and then left the company. A few years later, we hired Richard Johnson to develop and build the McMartin BA-50K 50 kW AM. After he left the company, I installed two of the three units built. One of these went to Portugal and one to Brazil. The transmitter that went to Brazil was previously operated by Morris Blum at WANN, Annapolis, Md. One of these units was in actual operation at the NAB Show in Las Vegas in the early ’80s before the failure of the company.
McMartin B-502 console I was the principal design engineer for the console and transmitter line. All the first units were hand-built with the assistance of the metal shop and a technician, and then turned over to production to copy. I also oversaw the final test of almost every unit that went out the door. A lot of the simplicity was a result of my self-taught building of transmitters with the resources available at the time in the Omaha area.
I remember installing and/or maintaining a variety of McMartin transmitters in the ’70s and ’80s. I recall having a few issues from time to time. You were always the guy who was there answering the tech support line.
As McMartin’s director of engineering, Ray also had me in charge of customer service, which meant the technical service guys came to me with the tough problems. I would always answer the customer’s questions with them listening in on the phone to learn the solution. But as times got tough and staffing suffered, I wound up being the only one available.
During the peak of production including the engineered sound, SCA line, background music line and broadcast transmitters, we had around 125 employees. The transmitter production and support staff probably accounted for about 30. The peak years in sales were just near $1 million per month. The growth curve showed sales at about $600,000 in 1963, $1 million in 1973 and over $10 million in 1979.
What were some of your most unusual or memorable support calls that come to mind?
My most memorable support call and humorous one was from Tom Andrews at WLKI, Angola, Ind.
Charlie Goodrich circa 1978 He had the very first McMartin FM transmitter, a BF-3.5K. There was an intermittent inside the RF box and he called my home at about 3 a.m., and my wife answered the phone. He asked what she was doing up. With humor she said, “Vacuuming the floors,” and then gave me the phone.
With that, Tom wanted to have me listen on the phone as he hit the side of the transmitter with his shoe to see if I could analyze the problem. We later resolved the problem and continued to be friends for many, many years.
Then there was the customer who installed a plate transformer with the primary voltage selecting straps connected in a fashion that shorted all three of the incoming lines together, resulting in huge damage to the contactors and protection circuit breakers and the line pole fuses. Each time we asked him if the incoming lines were connected to the correct terminals, he would check and verify that they were connected correctly.
Another interesting case was when we were putting a pair of McMartin BF-25K transmitters in parallel to produce 55 kW on top of the mountain overlooking Honolulu. The only access was by helicopter. The helicopter dropped one of the power supplies from about 1,000 feet into the wooded hills, never to be recovered.
We also had an incident with North American Van Lines trucking our transmitters back from the NAB show in Las Vegas. On the way, the truck had an accident with the transmitters strapped to the side of the laid-over trailer up in the air. The company asked for permission to cut the straps and let the transmitters drop about 8 feet. It was required before the truck could be uprighted. The three transmitters were replaced by the insurance company.
McMartin also manufactured and sold an extensive line of PA and sound equipment as well as SCA receivers. Is a lot of that gear still in operation?
Yes, there are many Engineered Sound amplifiers in commercial applications throughout the country, including rapid transit systems. I remember we built the equipment for BART San Francisco, MARTA Atlanta and WMATA Washington, D.C., to mention a few. Many of the fire support systems, schools, churches and commercial buildings including the Sears Tower all use the amplifiers. We also built background music amplifiers and SCA receivers. Muzak, the Physicians Radio Network and many radio reading services for the blind were large users.
I do not hear much from the SCA line anymore but regularly hear from customers using the commercial amplifiers and Engineered Sound equipment. We built thousands and thousands of amplifiers from 10 watts up to 350 watts. The larger units were used in many of the airports and automobile manufacturing plants. Disneyland and Disney World were also large users for paging and entertainment.
McMartin manufacturing floor in the early 1960s. McMartin had quite a long run from the mid-1950s until they had to close their doors in the mid-1980s. Are you able to give us any insight as to why that happened?
McMartin Industries Inc. was founded as Continental Manufacturing Inc. in 1956, initially as a manufacturer of consumer electronics products. Continental Manufacturing made “controla-tone” remote TV volume controls and the “Harmony” line of radio intercom systems. In 1962, the corporate name was changed to McMartin Industries Inc. The first products sold under the McMartin name were FM receivers designed to pick up SCA signals.
Ray operated till the early ’80s when a bank took over and liquidated the company. By 1979, things were tightening up as interest rates soared and Ray had a difficult time paying back his loans, so the last 3–4 years were a struggle. The company was caught in what could be described as a perfect storm: the extremely high interest rates, economic changes, SCA market declines with the introduction of satellite delivered radio programming and extremely heavy broadcast sales expenses and outside overhead.
After McMartin Industries Inc. failed, Ray started McMartin International in Gunnison, Colo., which lasted only approximately a year. Jerry Martin and John Miller re-launched the company as McMartin Inc. in 1983, operating in Council Bluffs, Iowa, but that closed in 1985.
After McMartin closed down, you have continued supporting most of their products under the banner Goodrich Enterprises. Tell us when and how you decided to start that venture.
During the early ’70s, I had been installing sound systems in bars and restaurants in the evenings after work, using McMartin amplifiers and sound equipment. I designed and installed a few lighted floors for discos, and in no time, this took off as a business. I was building lighted floors and shipping them all over the country. So I decided to create the company Goodrich Enterprises in the late ’70s.
Of course, the disco era only lasted a few years, but when McMartin started to fail, I felt for the customers and decided to help them out when the company could not. One thing led to the next as the customers kept calling me for support. I was eventually able to pick up the necessary assets from McMartin liquidation auctions. I specifically bought up the necessary items to build the transmitters and exciters, and I was off and running.
The customers had the trust in me and the trust in the brand name McMartin. Through the help of RF Specialties, I was able to provide systems as well as the tech support. At that time, RF Specialties was comprised of mostly ex-McMartin employees: John Schneider, Don Jones, Bill Hosington, Bill Emery and Bill Turney. I still manufacture some specialized parts for the transmitters, for example PA tuning line assemblies, plate blockers and metal assembly parts.
Goodrich, right, at McMartin Engineering in 1970, with sales assistant Joe Krier. Do you sell and support the broadcast products of any other companies that are no longer in business?
I will help customers with just about any transmitter including AEL, Sintronics, Elcom Bauer, CCA, CSI and Gates. We very frequently find ourselves rebuilding plate blockers, high-power tube sockets, tuning line assemblies and blowers, especially the Rotron Centrimax. And of course we supply all the high-power transmitter tubes, either new or rebuilt, and most high-power transmitter parts.
Most all of the McMartin transmitters used the grounded-grid triode design for the FM PA stage as opposed to tetrodes used by the “major” manufacturers. What do you especially like about grounded grid?
The thing I liked about the grounded-grid triode style transmitter was the simplicity of operation. This made it very easy for the station engineer to understand and troubleshoot. With the grounded grid as a shield between the input circuit and the output circuit, there was no need to deal with neutralization. Also, the lack of a screen grid DC supply made the transmitter simpler. We felt the reliability exceeded that of the tetrode transmitters at that time, and if the final stage did suffer a failure we always had the higher-power driver stage available to get back on the air with minimal loss of coverage. Eimac had developed an excellent line of grounded-grid tubes to meet the needs of that growing market.
How has your company fared during the recession? Do you think we are finally coming out of it and that radio will be a good business in the years to come?
My company has fared well during the recession, because I have diversified over the years with the medical and dental industry. What decline I see in the broadcast industry is offset with increases in the med/dental business. I see radio picking up somewhat, but as a mature market, I don’t see giant leaps in the future. I think radio will always be a good business for the smart operator who can meet the needs of the local market.
What is your opinion of HD Radio?
I do not have very strong opinions on the subject of HD Radio, but I do believe that AM HD will go by the wayside along with AM stereo. This is more due to the interference caused and in some cases major group stations interfering with their sister stations. I feel the FM HD has a place, but the market is not demanding it. It seems it is driven by the manufacturers, and they have had their first chance to make an impression and missed the mark. It may take many more years, if ever, for this to develop.
Do you foresee AM and FM over-the-air broadcasting ultimately giving way to wireless Internet delivery and if so, how soon?
I do not think that AM and FM will ever give way to wireless Internet. Wireless will make some inroads in the metropolitan areas, but radio will prevail in the less populated and rural areas. Radio has the ability to cover so many more square miles from a single transmitter site with a single investment.