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Wheatstone Acquires PR&E From GatesAir

Transaction expands Wheatstone's offerings and takes GatesAir out of networked audio management

Broadcast equipment manufacturer Wheatstone Corp. has acquired the assets and intellectual property of Pacific Research & Engineering from GatesAir, the former Harris Broadcast, which has owned PR&E since 1999.

The purchase, Wheatstone announced, “includes audio consoles, the networking system, the furniture lines, all designs, trademarks, engineering files and tooling, effectively restoring the PR&E console brand under the Wheatstone umbrella.”

Terms were not announced. It was not immediately clear whether any PR&E staff will be affected or make the move to a new employer.

Pacific Research & Engineering, once called Pacific Recorders, was founded in southern California in 1969 by Jack Williams; for years it was known not only for its consoles but for its turnkey high-end studio installations and its cart machines.

In 1999 Harris Corp. acquired PR&E, which by then was publicly held and financially challenged, in a deal that valued PR&E at about $9.5 million, including assumption of debt, according to RW archives. That moved Harris into the audio console and networked audio management manufacturing business and gave it a West Coast base of operations. (The Gores Group later acquired Harris Broadcast in 2013 and subsequently split it into siblings called GatesAir and Imagine Communications.)

CEO Gary Snow today saluted PR&E’s 48-year history. He said that at one time, PR&E was “considered the Mercedes Benz of consoles … and today, the name PR&E still stands for quality.”

“Our intention is to not only restore the PR&E brand, but to grow it and give existing as well as new customers the mobility to easily transition to IP networking,” Snow said in the statement. It’s not the first time Snow has acquired a competing console line; Wheatstone bought Auditronics in 1999.

PR&E has been operated in recent years out of GatesAir facilities in Quincy, Ill., and Mason, Ohio. Wheatstone will move these assets to its headquarters in New Bern, N.C., next week, then start manufacturing. “There’s extensive inventory we can draw from to derive product support and order fulfillment,” Wheatstone spokeswoman Dee McVicker told Radio World. “We have already organized our factory to receive the inventory.”

The move takes GatesAir out of networked audio management. GatesAir Chief Product Officer Rich Redmond, who worked on this transaction with Snow, called the move “an opportunity to create some focus” for his company. “The thing we’ve always done best is building the best radio and TV transmitters. … We’re really in the transport and transmit business for radio and TV.” Those products, including its Intraplex line, are not affected. Redmond described PR&E as “a great product line, and we’ve tried to be a responsible steward of the brand for a long time. It’s important to find someone who was able to take it to the next level; now the amount of audio and digital IP networking expertise for studios under one roof in Gary’s organization is, I have to believe, the best in the industry.”

Redmond said the two companies are working together to create a smooth transition in service for existing customers. Future sales, he said, will be pointed to Wheatstone. PR&E products have been sold both direct as well as through dealers like SCMS.

In the late 1990s Harris was a Wheatstone dealer, but when it moved into the console-making business, that relationship changed. Radio World asked whether GatesAir will become a Wheatstone or PR&E equipment dealer again. “That has not been discussed,” McVicker said, but “we have a long-term, cooperative relationship with GatesAir, and expect to continue that to maintain support for PR&E customers.”

It was not immediately clear if this move would involve any staff reductions or changes. Redmond referred questions to Wheatstone. McVicker said, “It’s important to Wheatstone that we maintain PR&E continuity in sales and product support. Product support is our highest priority, and that means we’ll be keenly interested in staffing issues.”

Wheatstone in 2015 also acquired software company Audion Labs, parent of VoxPro. Its radio/TV infrastructure products include IP audio networking, control surfaces, talent stations, audio processing, software applications and other gear. It is also parent of the Audioarts Engineering line.