Paul Schafer, Father of Radio Automation, Dead at 90

Also pioneered remote control of broadcast transmitters
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Paul Schafer

Word has been received that Paul C. Schafer, developer of the first system for radio program automation, died on Feb. 23, in Bonita, Calif. He was 90.

See Photo of the Week for a picture of Paul Schafer with one of his transmitter remote control systems.

Schafer’s initial involvement in broadcasting began with on-air work at a station in his hometown of Hammond, Ind. He worked at several other stations in the state before moving to California in the early 1950s where he landed an engineering job with NBC in Hollywood. It was during this period that the FCC relaxed its rules to allow certain remote control of transmitters for certain classes of radio stations. This inspired Schafer to devise a system for transmitter remote control and monitoring and to launch Schafer Electronics.

A few years later, Schafer was asked by the owner of a Bakersfield, Calif. radio station to see if he could create a system for providing overnight programming. Schafer used a couple of jukebox record-playing mechanisms and reel-to-reel tape decks to provide both music, playback of commercials and station IDs. This system paved the way for Schafer to create more sophisticated systems, including the 903 that appeared in the 1970s and performed such functions as back-timing and joining network newscasts on time. The big radio station equipment suppliers, Collins, RCA and Gates (later Harris and now GatesAir), were not producing their own automation gear and all marketed Schafer’s systems. Schafer’s name became synonymous with radio automation, with sales of more than 1,000 systems globally.

Schafer was honored with the NAB’s 2002 Engineering Achievement Award and authored a chapter on remote control for one of that organization’s Engineering Handbooks. He also owned several radio stations.

Plans for a memorial service for Schafer have yet to be announced.

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