The Talkies — Handie and Walkie

In 1936, the Galvin family took a six weeks tour of Europe. They sailed on the Italian liner, Rex, via the southern route to Italy. The trip was Galvin’s first return to Europe since the war and he took a great pleasure in sharing the new experience with Lillian and thirteen-year-old Bob. He particularly enjoyed the tour of art galleries in Florence and later toured Austria, Germany, France, and England.

He came back from his visit to Germany convinced the situation was grave, and that war, unless a miracle intervened, was inevitable. His impressions of the almost frantic and unreasonable militancy among some of the German industrialists, the number of people in uniforms, and the other evident military preparations, suggested to him that the only possible outlet would be war. His impressions of the Autobahns, those great gleaming superhighways that crisscrossed Germany were, “They have not been built just for autos, they are war roads.”

When he returned to the United States, through the expansion of early 1937 and the recession that ran into 1938, it was Galvin’s feeling that the company should be working in product areas that might be useful to the country in case of war. He had a number of his engineers investigating applications of radio to the needs of the military.

But the real impetus for the beginning of Motorola’s great war contributions came in early 1940 when Royal Munger, then financial editor for the Chicago Daily News, who was a reserve army officer, called Galvin. He told him that the National Guard then maneuvering in war games at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin were hampered for lack of radio communications.

Galvin sent Don Mitchell, his chief engineer, and Ray Yoder to Camp McCoy. During the inspection, Mitchell saw the heavy and cumbersome back-pack radios the Army was using for communications. “That’s no kind of equipment with which to fight a war,” Mitchell told Col. Leland H. Stanford of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. “I think we can provide better radios for that purpose.”

Col. Stanford took Mitchell up on his confident assertions. Mitchell returned to Galvin and spoke of his feeling that a light and portable transceiver could be built.

Without any specific contract from the Army, Galvin urged Mitchell to go all out in developing such a unit. Mitchell, with Ray Yoder, Jack Davis, Paul Smith, and several other Motorola engineers assisting them, set to work.

The problems inherent in any portable unit of this kind were enormous, the paramount one being that of weight. The army requirements were that the unit be made of the lightest possible material known, in this instance, magnesium. Mitchell, knowing that magnesium was relatively new and that there would be all kinds of difficulty in application, worked on the problem of designing the unit in such a way that the more familiar aluminum could be used, and still remain within the Army’s weight restriction.

Another problem was that in actual combat enemy snipers could locate the radio—by the reflection of the antenna. The task became one of finding a black corrosion resistant, non-reflective nickel plating for the antenna. There was plenty of black plating, but since the antenna would have to be retractable, the constant friction would scratch and nick it and reimpose the reflective properties on any coating then known. A coating was finally developed by one of Motorola’s engineers which would resist the abrasion.

There were numerous working models that failed to meet specification in one way or another. But with the brilliant engineering teamwork under the direction of Don Mitchell evidencing the same zestful group spirit that had successfully whipped the earlier problem of the car radio, a working model was produced. This prototype was the famous “Handie-Talkie” radio, a two-way crystal-controlled portable radio no larger than a cracker box, complete with a microphone, head antenna and self-contained batteries. It was built with the precision of a pocket calculator and weighed slightly more than five pounds. It had a solid range of one mile and a potential range of up to three miles.

After three months, and with three sets to demonstrate, Mitchell flew to Ft. Benning, Georgia, where maneuvers were then in progress, to show them to the Army. Although individual officers, such as Col. Stanford, were tremendously enthusiastic, there was apprehension in higher military echelons about the effectiveness of these small frail looking units in actual combat. A small quantity of them were finally contracted for.

Galvin was disappointed at the initial lack of response to what he knew was an amazing unit. Mitchell and Yoder continued to work on the product seeking ways to improve it.

The “Handie-Talkie” radio was given a sharp impetus, when, during his inauguration in 1940, President Roosevelt saw some of the units being used for purposes of security by the police and the secret service. He wrote a letter concerning them to the military officials involved at that time in organizing the paratroopers, and once more Galvin arranged a field demonstration. This time the validity and uniqueness of the product was instantly recognized and Motorola received some major contracts for their immediate production and delivery. The company went into full production in July of 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor.

The “Handie-Talkie” two-way radio, or SCR-536, the Signal Corps number for the unit, saw action in every theatre of war in the world during the next five years, with nearly 40,000 of these units being made for the various services. To manufacture this quantity at that time-the production on a mass basis of a complete transmitting and receiving station in one tiny unit composed of 585 miniature sized parts with its own power supply-was a miracle of modern electronic engineering. They went into service at the very beginning of combat with ground forces and Air Force gliders, becoming for the infantryman a piece of equipment second only to his rifle in importance. It was in the North African invasion, where communications inadequacies were crucial, that they proved their essential worth.

Besides being used by front line troops for reporting positions, locations of machine gun nests, shell fire, mortar batteries and to call for air support and supplies, the “Handie-Talkie” radio was used by airborne troops and paratroopers. Each set was completely waterproofed and could be submerged in water without losing its operating efficiency.

At one point in the war, Motorola received an order for 100 of these units to be delivered to a point of embarkation within two days for a “special and most urgent emergency.” The order had not been received through Army channels and, seeking confirmation, Galvin was unable to establish the point of origin. Going on a hunch, however, he had the Signal Corps label cut off of 100 units and had them sprayed a dull gray instead of the usual olive-drab and shipped them to arrive in time at the point of embarkation. He did not find out until many months later that the group that received them were the famous “Carlson’s Raiders.”

Although Motorola was to produce a wide and diversified array of products for the armed services during the war, the “Handie-Talkie” radio and the later Walkie-Talkie played primary roles in earning the company five Army-Navy “E” Awards. As a mark of esteem for his part in designing and developing the “Handie-Talkie” radio the Chicago Tribune on September 21, 1944 presented Don Mitchell with their War Worker’s Award, and later he received a special citation from the Army as well.

During the early 1930s, a few police departments and engineers dabbled in rigging up radio communications for police cars. For a short time, one of the Chicago broadcast stations would interrupt a soap opera to send an emergency message to police that kept their car radios tuned to that station. The radio public had the enjoyment and vicarious thrill of listening in on this additional drama, but unfortunately the Chicago criminals took up monitoring the station as well and timed their getaway to the radio alert.

As early as 1931, Motorola engineers modified the coils of standard auto radio sets, which permitted the radios to receive the reassigned higher frequency police signals above the broadcast band. This frequency change somewhat improved the one-way police communications, but the results were still only marginally effective because the criminals had their sets adapted also.

These early experiences clearly revealed that police departments could use and would use radio receivers and transmitters in quantity and with striking effectiveness if a way could be found to solve the inherent design and use problems.

This was evident to a number of people. Galvin started to do something about it in a serious way because, as he said, “There was a need and I could see it was a market that nobody owned.”

By 1939, men like Elmer Wavering, Art Reese, Floyd McCall, Dave Chapman, Harry Harrison, and Herby Moos were concentrating on the technical, production, and selling problems of police radio.

The new department, which they expanded with ability and vigor, didn’t even have a formal name. It was called simply the “Herby Moos Specialty Department” after Moos who ran the factory part of the operation. This small group was the highly personalized nucleus of what was to be called the Police Radio Department, and eventually the Communications Division of the company.

In early 1940, Galvin read in a technical journal of the work of a professor at the University of Connecticut, Daniel Noble, who had developed an FM mobile communications system for the Connecticut State Police. Dan Noble was the first man to establish an FM system to the specialized requirements of a police department. He had designed and supervised the building of an FM broadcast system for WRDC, of Hartford, Connecticut, and he had served as consultant for similar projects.

Galvin was greatly impressed with Noble Is achievements and established contact with him to arrange a series of meetings. He found Noble lukewarm about any permanent move from the academic world to industry. A final agreement between the two men encompassed a trial period, whereby Noble would take a year’s leave of absence from the University and join Motorola.

In the beginning Noble was regarded by a few Motorola employees as primarily a visionary, an academician, impatient with price and profit considerations and with anything that restricted his pure research. His appearance, a tall, contemplative big man with big strong hands, an imposing bow tie and tufts of frizzled hair gilding a high and lustrous bald head, suggested the universal image of the “egg head,” the dreamer who could not be depended upon to keep his feet solidly on the ground.

A part of the problem was simply that Motorola achievements in the early days had been effected by unorthodox engineering talent, by men without academic degrees, but with a canny facility in terms of screwdrivers and soldering irons. Some of these men looked upon Noble as an intruder.

Galvin came to admire the brilliant vision of Noble, and came to place great faith and trust in that vision. Noble came to respect and care greatly for the silver-haired man who stood only a shade above his shoulder, who could not move glibly in any involved discussion of physics, but who had a remarkable capacity to cut through a maze of issues, even technical ones, and touch the pertinent core. There was a period perhaps when they tested one another, and with the mutual respect this produced, they became a formidable combination.

Noble joined the company in early September 1940. He began by working on the possibility of adapting many of the AM systems common in that time to FM. He had no responsibility in the development of the “Handie-Talkie” radio but went to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, with Don Mitchell to make the presentation of the unit to the Signal Corps. Among the Signal Corps officers present at that time were two, Col. Colton, and Major J. D. O’Connell, who would play important roles in the development of a longer range portable unit than the “Handie-Talkie” radio.

Sometime after the United States had gone to war, on a visit to Washington, Noble was told by Col. O’Connell that the Signal Corps had let a contract for the development of a new AM portable transmitter-receiver. Noble told him bluntly that he felt this was a grave mistake, and that the area of development should be for an FM portable unit. Noble felt strongly such a unit could be developed and that Motorola could do it. As a result of this conversation, and Noble’s confidence in the company’s ability to meet the challenge, Col. O’Connell issued a Signal Corps contract for the development of an FM portable transmitter-receiver to Motorola.

A series of meetings were held with Signal Corps Engineers at Fort Monmouth, and engineering meetings at Motorola were attended by Noble’s team, which included Henry Magnuski, Marion Bond, Lloyd Morris, and Bill Vogel. Working furiously against time, this brilliant team developed a design which included a single tuning control to tune both the transmitter and the receiver simultaneously and an automatic frequency control to insure clear communication without the need for critical precision tuning on the part of the operator. They also overcame the primary problems of establishing an adequate power supply, a minimum number of crystals, and the fungiciding of the unit to allow it to withstand tropical temperatures and humidity.

The final critical acceptance test took place at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where Col. O’Connell had set up a conference for the testing of a variety of portable and mobile communications equipment. Members of the Infantry Board, always highly critical of the application of communications equipment to battlefield conditions, had been invited as observers. Bob Galvin accompanied Dan Noble and Bill Vogel to Fort Knox for these crucial tests. Since they only had two working models, each night was spent in the hotel checking them over carefully to make sure they were ready for additional tests the following day. The performance of the SCR-300, Walkie-Talkie, during those tests, its capacity to communicate through interfering ignition noise, and the rugged quality of the design, met with unusually enthusiastic response from the hard-headed Infantry and Signal Corps officers.

Motorola was to produce nearly 50,000 of these famed SCR-300 Walkie-Talkie units during the course of the war, the first units transported by air for use in the invasion of Italy by the Allied Forces. A sizeable quantity went to the Pacific. Perhaps their greatest contribution was in the European invasion, where their role in re-establishing order at the conclusion of the Battle of the Bulge gained Motorola tremendous recognition and a general feeling that perhaps the Walkie-Talkie was the single most useful piece of communications equipment employed in the invasion.

Noble was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the Army for his part in the development of the Walkie-Talkie. Noble, accepting the award, stressed the major contributions of Alagnuski, Vogel, Morris and Bond. He went on to say that the development of the Walkie-Talkie was an academic exercise compared to the contribution of the men on the battlefields, the men fighting the war.

Noble’s decision in 1941 not to return to the University of Connecticut came about because he knew he could be of greater help to the war effort with Motorola. There were also long discussions with Galvin pressing him on the challenges of industry’s work in the private enterprise system, the complex problems involved in taking the product of creative inventiveness and harnessing it to the needs of customers. Noble grew to recognize the validity of these challenges.

At the end of the war, Noble turned the major part of his attention to the growth of the mobile communications business. He was able, with the help of an extraordinary team of Motorola engineers, along with Art Reese, Homer Marrs, and Floyd McCall on the marketing phase, to establish the Motorola product as the best in the country. From this foundation, the communications division grew to a position of undisputed leadership in the field of mobile and portable two-way communications.

In 1948, he urged Galvin into the opening of a small research facility in Phoenix, Arizona f or the purpose of exploring new skills and opportunities in the rapidly advancing art of military electronics. Both men wished to continue making contributions to the country’s military potential, and both men were convinced that it was logical to set up an operation away from the bomb-vulnerable major urban centers.

But equally important was Noble’s feeling, discussed many times with Galvin, that the electronic art was headed for a major change, one characterized by the rising importance of solid state electronics. The new pattern would require synthesizing the skills of many separate disciplines, mathematicians, physicists, metallurgists and chemists working with electronic engineers, all moving together toward rising scientific sophistication in the electronics art as a whole.

There were a few conservative voices at Motorola in 1948 who felt there wasn’t anything Noble wanted to do in Phoenix that couldn’t be done just as well at headquarters. There were references to the Phoenix venture as “Noble’s Yacht” and “Noble’s Folly.” Galvin himself may have had a few reservations, but he had been a witness through the years of the war to the many contributions that Noble made with two-way radio and military electronics, and he backed him firmly, telling the objectors, “You don’t argue with success.”

The first military electronics laboratory was set up in Phoenix in January of 1949, and made an important contribution to the efforts of American industry in the Korean War. Following the war, Noble hired Dr. William Taylor as his first solid state, or semiconductor, scientist. Dr. Taylor invented the processing procedure which produced practical large-area junctions and established Motorola as the first producer of power transistors.

The military electronics division operation matured rapidly after Joe Chambers became general manager, and this division served as the birthplace of the semiconductor products division and the solid state systems division.

Certainly one of the reasons for the establishment of the first facility at Phoenix was that it was a clean city, with good schools, and an intellectual aura of growth and progress. There was also the Arizona climate as a great drawing card in the recruitment of the best qualified engineers and scientists with their families. But more basic was the principle fact that Noble anticipated the trend toward solid state electronics, and wanted to help to mold the trend in a creative sense.

Perhaps, like Plato in the Hellas of antiquity who dreamed of establishing an ideal society, Noble also conceived of a group of engineers and scientists in an operation so organized and administered that each man could achieve a high level of personal identification and dedication by being given the right to accept the responsibility for the ultimate success or failure of his contribution. This could be achieved in the development of an operation that would combine the virtues of the men of “ideas” with the virtues of the men who could adapt these ideas. In that way, there would be created a new exemplary path from idea to engineering, from engineering to production, and finally to the product in the hands of the customer.

Feedback is desired (suggestions, comments, errors, gripes, whatever) Michael Wright,

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