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Mike Palmer, the Founder of Arrakis, Dies at 69

Started the company in the 1970s with inspiration from his wife Gloria

Mike Palmer in Arrakis booth at NAB Show 2019
Mike Palmer is shown in the Arrakis booth at the NAB Show in 2019.

Michael Palmer, the founder of Arrakis Systems Inc., has died.

He passed away unexpectedly on Monday. He suffered congestive heart failure while preparing to go scuba diving with his wife Gloria in Hawaii. He was 69.

Arrakis has been a family business since its start.

Palmer, having grown up reading science fiction and physics texts for fun,  earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with a minor in electronic engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He then taught electronics classes in San Francisco.

That’s where he met Gloria Vader, his student who became his wife. They married in 1974 and soon moved to Missouri, where Mike worked as VP and electronic engineer at Woodson Electronics, and where Gloria was hired as the chief engineer of KMSU, Southwest Missouri State’s 10 kW FM in Springfield.

“KMSU was in desperate need of new studio consoles, with a budget of only $7,500,” according to an obituary from the Palmer family. “Gloria told Mike that he could design and build a better console than anything that was on the market. So he did.”

Mike Palmer, standing, and Alan Farrington in KSMU’s Production studio in 1979
Mike Palmer, standing, and Alan Farrington in KMSU’s Production studio in 1979.

His employer was struggling financially and closed its doors around that time.

To test the waters of the radio broadcast market, the Palmers decided that he would do an initial product design, build a mockup, print a brochure and mail it to 1,000 stations. “The response was astonishing. They received $30,000 in cash orders in the mail.”

The couple returned that money, telling their new clients that the product would be ready in six months. “The first Arrakis product, the 1,000 series radio console, was designed and built in the basement of their humble home. It was completed on time, and the first console installed at KMSU.”

Arrakis officially opened in 1977 and was named for a planet in the sci-fi novel “Dune.”

Melissa, Mike, Aaron, Gloria and Ben Palmer in 1984
Melissa, Mike, Aaron, Gloria and Ben Palmer in 1984.

The Arrakis product line has since grown to including numerous console lines, digital automation systems and hardware.

The couple has three children, all of whom work at the company, as well as five grandchildren.

A longtime colleague was Tim Schwieger, president and CEO of BSW, which has been an Arrakis dealer for almost 40 years.

“Mike and Gloria began their company with the aspiration of building products that represented a good value for all radio markets, especially the smaller stations on a tight budget,” Schwieger said. “To this day they continue to live up to their core values.”

He described Palmer as a “standup guy.”

“I always counted on Mike to speak the truth and when necessary be brutally honest. His business insight has been very encouraging to me personally and more than anything I valued our long friendship.”

While easing into retirement, Mike Palmer remained involved as the children took up responsibility for the various aspects of the business. Gloria Palmer also continued to be involved in product design, assembly and PCB work.

The family wrote, “Arrakis Systems was started as a family-owned and -operated business, has continued to be and will continue to be family-owned -operated. Mike’s children were raised in radio and have each been blessed to have worked with him for almost 20 years apiece — learning from him, developing groundbreaking software and hardware together, sharing a passion for radio, technology and the amazing people they feel privileged to serve in the radio broadcast industry.

“His advice, experience, knowledge and creativity will be missed and remembered. However, it is his example, kindness, wisdom, loving heart and desire to serve and uplift everyone around him that will be missed the most.”

Funeral or memorial details have yet been announced.