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This story was published in 2000, in monthly segments in Fresh Water News newspaper (www.freshwaternews.com). Here on the "Our History" page of our web site, you will find all of the monthly segments that have been published so far. We will add the remaining segments here as they are published in Fresh Water News.
Rodgers Marine Electronics celebrates 40 years of service
By Tim Jenkins
Initially my idea was to write a story about the 40 year history of Rodgers Marine and all the changes in the marine electronics industry. It soon occurred to me that the story wasn't just about a company, but more of a biography of the store's founder Rodgers Jenkins.
Three generations of Jenkins have been involved in some form of the radio business throughout the past sixty-five years. My grandfather, Bryan Jenkins, owned a small radio store on the corner of SW 2nd and Morrison during the early thirties. Brands like Atwater Kent and RCA Radiola were the popular radios of the time, but the real market was in used radio parts for ham radio enthusiasts. Old radios that had become obsolete were parted out for their resistors, variable capacitors, and vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes were the main component in radios, much like the transistors and integrated circuits of today. With the Great Depression affecting almost everyone, finding a source of inexpensive parts was the only way a ham radio operator could afford to build a radio.
Rodgers Jenkins early exposure to radios and electronics at his father's shop no doubt shaped his career path. By the time that he started attending Benson High School, ham radio was his main hobby. Being a radio operator meant that he could talk to people from not only the United States, but many countries world-wide.
After completing high school, Rodgers first job was working for KGW Broadcasting doing AM transmitter monitoring and maintenance. Like many young men of that time, Rodgers enlisted in the Navy to fight in World War II. Because of his experience with electronics, the Navy sent him to technical school, first in Chicago and then for advanced training on Treasure Island near San Francisco. The training facility on Treasure Island, called Radio Materials School, covered the repair of radios and a relatively new system called radar.
Pearl Harbor was the Navy's ship repair facility in the Pacific and technicians were needed to repair the war damaged aircraft carriers and landing craft. Armed with knowledge about all the radio and radar systems aboard the Navy's ships, Rodgers shipped out on a troop transport ship bound for Oahu. For the next two years he worked repairing electronics on everything from landing craft to aircraft carriers.
As a returning war veteran Rodgers resumed his job at KGW Broadcasting, working at their transmitter station in Delta Park. When the devastating Vanport flood hit in 1948, it took out one of the towers and left mud and water halfway up the third floor of the transmitter building. After the flood waters receded, the mucking out job was undertaken by the station engineers that worked at the site.
KGW Broadcasting, which was then owned by the Oregonian Publishing Company, began looking into building a new broadcast system called television. Rodgers decided that it was time to look for a new employer when he learned that the Oregonian's Board of Directors thought television too risky and turned down the construction permit.
His job search ended when he was hired by a small company of about thirty employees called Tektronix. Starting out in the test department at the original Tek location on Hawthorne Boulevard, Rodgers soon worked his way up to the engineering department that designed the oscilloscopes. While working at Tektronix around 1955 he was tinkering in his spare time with the idea of a completely transistorized electronic organ. Up until then there were either pipe organs driven by air or electronic organs powered by vacuum tubes. Receiving startup capitol from several sources, the Rodgers Organ Company came to life. The company's roots were in Beaverton, but a need for more manufacturing space dictated a move to a new plant in Hillsboro. In the early years Rodgers Organ sold both home, church and theater organs, including a deluxe model for the newly built Memorial coliseum.
Some of his ideas that came to fruition included a type of ferrite core oscillator that created a musical tone, and a foot pedal rack that operated with magnetic reed switches instead of mechanical contact switches. As the market for electronic organs began to change in the late sixties, Rodgers sold his interest in the company and began to look for another challenge, unaware that his interest in boating would shape his next career.
Rodgers originally started boating in 1956 with the purchase of a small 24' cabin cruiser called the Kitty K. Located in the bow of his boat was a military surplus six channel AM transceiver the size of a Yugo. Communication equipment for recreational use at this time consisted of low frequency, amplitude modulated, long range radios. Other boaters using a low frequency radio would have their signal skip off the ionosphere and come down hundreds of miles away, making it difficult for you to have a conversation with your fellow boater just several miles away. Using this type of low frequency radio, your chance of making radio contact to someone 600 miles away was just as good as making contact 5 miles away.
The Kitty K was sold in 1962 and replaced by a 35' twin engine cabin cruiser located in a boathouse at Portland Yacht Club. Receiving sponsorship to join PYC in 1963, Rodgers joined the club and throughout the years developed many strong friendships.
With the old vacuum tube disappearing and the new transistor taking its place, new things were starting to happen to marine electronics. The FCC was mandating that a new type of radio, using a new frequency band, be adopted by all vessels. The new radio would be called VHF/FM or very high frequency with frequency type modulation. A radio transmission in this range of the spectrum would only have an effective maximum distance of approximately 30 miles. The Marine Electronics dealers in Portland were reluctant to sell this new type of radio, claiming that it would never replace AM radios because of its limited range. It was here that Rodgers saw his opportunity to break into a new market. Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission, there was a change coming on the horizon and Rodgers was confident it would be a big one when it arrived.
Being free of his daily responsibility to manage Rodgers Organ Company and looking for something to do, Rodgers began designing and building home theater speakers. It was at this time that Bob Rickett, a long time friend and PYC member suggested that Rodgers try the Marine Electronics market. Taking Bob's advice, along with his own ideas about the new radios coming along soon, Rodgers set about creating a new marine electronics company.
The original location of Rodgers Marine Electronics was in the front portion of Rodgers' boathouse at PYC. Before long there was more business than Rodgers could handle by himself. With the help of an old friend, an instructor at Benson High School, he hired a promising Benson student (Marty Kirk) to help with the service side of the business. Making the boathouse into a service shop allowed easy access to the boats, but not to customers unfamiliar to the area. The move to a building on dry land came about in the spring of 1971, when Rodgers Marine Electronics took over 1/2 of the building (12'x12') at 3417 NE Marine Drive. The building was a famous landmark because at that time it had a small runabout on its roof. Along with the new easy to access store location, there was now a place to display and sell new electronics. With the increased opportunity for more retail sales, came the need for additional help in the store. Because of her skills in book keeping and office management, Rodgers asked his wife Milly, to help run the store.
A few boaters still wanted AM radios, but the switch over to FM was starting to pick up momentum. Rodgers' first factory direct line was Standard Radio Corporation, which built a relatively small 10 watt, all solid state VHF radio. The term solid state referred to the use of transistors as components, and unlike vacuum tubes, required zero "warm up" time. The most unusual radio they manufactured was a small 3 watt radio built inside a 6" speaker. Unlike the frequency synthesized VHF radios of today, the early VHF's used individual plug in crystals to control the transmit and receive frequency for each channel. The customer, being either a recreational or commercial user, could pick the frequency that best suited their needs. Each radio that was sold had to be opened to install the crystals, after which each individual crystal was tuned to the correct frequency. Because each brand of radio used a different type of crystal, an entire wall in the shop was covered with tiny packages of crystals. Preparing a radio for delivery to a customer would take Rodgers' young assistant Martin Kirk almost thirty minutes to complete. Motorola entered the marine VHF radio market using the name Modar, with an innovative new 12 channel radio. The Modar Triton needed only one crystal per channel for both receive and transmit, a step towards engineering the present day frequency synthesized radio.
The large volume of VHF and CB sales, along with new product lines, commanded a need for more display area. The other half of their building became available in late '71 and the company expanded again, doubling the floor space to a gigantic 12' x 24'. With the increasing number of installation jobs, Rodgers needed help and offered me a job. Being out of work at the time I gladly accepted his offer of employment. I did however caution him that this was only a temporary job for me, and that I would soon return to my career in photography. A statement that Rodgers occasionally reminds me of to this day!
Like the dinosaur, marine electronics must either evolve or they will disappear completely. Although the depth sounder has survived, it's distant relative the rotating neon flasher has become nearly extinct. My first job was replacing old Bendix vacuum tube depth sounders, with a product manufactured by an Oregon company called Morrow Electronics. The solidly built, gray cased S-60, was one of the first all transistorized sounders. Bendix, a popular brand with both airplane and boat enthusiasts, was the leader in the recording depth sounder market until Konel joined forces with a little known Japanese electronics company. The first product that Konel imported from Furuno Electric Co. was a commercial quality recording depth sounder. The alliance of Konel and Furuno would signal the start of Japan's domination of the marine electronics industry.
Radio Navigation is a generic term for using radio frequency signals to determine your actual geographic location, as in systems such as Radar, Loran, or GPS. The first system to take advantage of this came into use in the 20's and was called a Radio Direction Finder or RDF. By taking a radio receiver and coupling it to a coil of wire you could actually sense the general direction of a radio station that was transmitting a signal. The magnitude of this discovery was no doubt earth shaking to mariners who had relied on bonfires and lighthouses up until that point in history. Early models of Radio Direction Finders, which were in use aboard yachts, looked like something that Jules Verne would have used aboard his submarine the Nautilus; sporting huge dials with knobs covering the face of the instrument, and a large loop antenna on top of the case.
The first form of Radio Navigation equipment that Rodgers Marine offered for sale was the venerable RDF, and once again the little transistor had modified the product unbelievably. The Konel RDF was a light weight, battery powered, portable unit, 1/8 the size of previous models. A more deluxe Konel model, the Automatic Radio Direction Finder acquired bearings much faster, and was capable of pointing to a beacon station continuously as the boat held a course. Being able to get your bearings with the use an RDF was good, but there was still a real need for locating objects in the fog and the darkness of night.
In the late 1920's, British scientists were experimenting with a new type of radio navigation, that of bouncing radio waves off the earth's Ionosphere. It became apparent to the scientists that relatively small targets in the path of the radio waves would reflect a measurable amount of energy. Several other countries besides the British were involved with radar research during the early 30's, but the United States in 1937 was the first to actually equip a ship with a rudimentary radar. A major advancement in radar technology came about in England during 1940, when two scientists from Birmingham University created the first resonant cavity magnetron. The magnetron is a small part in a radar's antenna that transmits the high power microwave signals. Realizing the benefits that radar would provide in warfare, British and American scientists joined forces at the beginning of World War II, quickly improving the range and clarity of radar.
Continuous research on radar throughout the '50s created what is called the "transceiver up" antenna, used by most marine radars of today. All of the early radar's (transceiver down) had a separate antenna and transceiver connected by a hollow rectangular copper duct called rigid waveguide tubing. Aligning the antenna or scanner on the cabin top, directly over the transceiver located several feet below in the cabin, was a tedious job. The waveguide tubing installation required flanges to be soldered at each end and terminate at exactly the correct length.
The British built Decca 101 became an enormously popular radar, utilizing the transceiver up construction, thus eliminating the need for waveguide and moving the transceiver out of the cabin and up into the antenna. Although the Decca 101 was advertised as a small boat radar, it still required two men to lift the scanner unit onto its mounting platform.
Looking to expand his line of products to include radar, Rodgers researched manufacturers that had new competitive products, and who were also interested in having a new Portland area dealer represent their products. The two marine electronic companies that we were competing against, Northwest Instrument and Progress Electronics, were already selling Decca, Raytheon, and Kelvin Hughes radars.
The search ended temporarily when Rodgers ordered a British built Seascan radar, which was compact, and very lightweight. It was quite small compared to the other radars available, making it very easy to fit on boats as small as 30 feet, opening a whole new market to radar. With the confidence that he could compete against the popular Decca radars, Rodgers added the new Furuno radars to his product lines.
When the building across our parking lot became available late in 1972, we quickly moved everything from our cramped little two room shop into our luxurious new building. The new display showroom with it's panoramic view of the Columbia river, would be the perfect place to demonstrate different models of radar in actual operation. Rodgers idea of having all of the electronics in our showroom operational, proved to be one of his best marketing ideas. Instead of just looking at a box with knobs, the customer could actually see the equipment operate and have a hands on experience with the product.
A relatively small component, looking somewhat like a centipede, the integrated circuit or IC could do the equivalent operation of several hundred transistors. By having numerous integrated circuits working together as a team and mounted on a single circuit board, the complexity of operations a piece of equipment could perform increased dramatically.
Motorola developed a new VHF radio utilizing the IC's amazing capabilities, calling it the Modar 55/75. This was the first VHF radio that was fully frequency synthesized, thereby eliminating the need for individual channel crystals. All of the currently available marine channels, 75 receive and 55 transmit, were in the radio's memory, ready for use, right out of the box. The radio was an immediate success, and as other manufacturers introduced their own synthesized radios, all of the twelve channel "crystal type" radios disappeared from our shelves. This drastically reduced our need to stock large quantities of different crystals and also the labor required to install them.
Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed Loran A (Long Range Navigation) during World War II to provide accurate positioning for aircraft and ships at sea. The land based Loran A radio transmitters were used in conjunction with an onboard receiver and NOAA navigational charts. A Loran A receiver measures the slight interval between the time it receives two signals, one sent from a master transmitter and the other from one of two slave transmitters. This time difference (TD), which is displayed on the Loran receiver, is a measure of the boat's distance from both transmitters. A TD number isn't a singular location, but actually represents a continuous line of position (LOP). This occurs when the transmission times of the two signals change, one getting shorter the other longer, but the time difference between them remains exactly the same. As the navigator completed the time consuming manual acquisition of the first TD, he would then switch to a different slave transmitter and acquire the next TD. With a grid of numbered lines of position (TDs) overprinted on NOAA charts, exact positions for the first time in history were easy to ascertain.
By utilizing a Loran receiver to locate your precise position, and radar to locate objects around your boat, navigation became much easier for the mariner. Commercial fisherman were absolutely amazed that with a Loran they could locate their favorite fishing spot, miles from shore and without any visible landmarks. If they caught fish in a specific area, the TDs were recorded in a logbook for a return trip. Word spread quickly about how well the new Loran system worked, gaining acceptance among both commercial fishermen and pleasure boaters.
The number of new companies manufacturing marine electronics expanded quite rapidly in the late seventies. With competing lines now being built in America, England, and Japan, Rodgers had the dubious task of deciding which products had good quality, interesting features and would work as advertised. Factory sales representatives were always bringing in new radios or depth sounders, along with sky-high claims that their equipment was the only one that Rodgers should be selling. A quick evaluation of their product on the service shop bench usually brought the salesperson back down to earth. Realizing the need to analyze the performance of new electronics on the water, Rodgers utilized his own boat, the Camelot, as a test platform. New depth sounders, scanning sonars, and radars, were just a few of the electronic devices that were evaluated aboard the Camelot.
Rodgers employees were not only given a written review of each unit tested, but were often aboard the Camelot during the actual equipment evaluation. It is his firm belief that knowledgeable employees are the key to a successful business.
The development of the microprocessor has almost certainly altered everyone's life in a profound way. Whether it's a computer, cookware, or cars, the microprocessor is in use everywhere. With its ability to control an enormous amount of data, the microprocessor made the video depth recorder a reality. Rather than having a stylus arc the combustible moving paper inside the sounder, the new video sounders operated very similar to a television set. This meant that the sounder could be left on all day, and all it would consume would be a small amount of battery power. The constant requirement of having recording paper on board was eliminated, as well as the acrid burning smell the recording paper gave off.
After the Loran A system was operational and deemed a success, the government decided that it should begin building a new longer range and more accurate system called Loran C. The original receivers that were designed for the new Loran C system were extremely expensive, and used only in commercial applications. When smaller, lower cost Loran C receivers became available, all of the existing "A" models that we had on our shelves were quickly replaced. A unique feature in the new receivers would allow them to automatically acquire the signals from the loran stations. All the operator had to do was select the correct GRI (grid) or station for a given area, and the Loran receiver would continuously display the TDs necessary to obtain a position fix. This unique new feature saved the navigator an enormous amount of time and effort in obtaining a position fix.
Several years after the introduction of the first automatically acquiring Loran C came a change no one was prepared for. With the help of a microprocessor, the Loran receiver instantly became a tremendous wealth of navigational information. The new multifunction Loran receivers could not only tell you your position, but also your range and bearing to an actual known position or waypoint. With the ability to retain up to twenty waypoints in its permanent memory, finding your way home was a snap. Once you started heading towards your destination, all kinds of navigational information became available. Displayed on the Loran's numerical display was your latitude and longitude, range and bearing to a waypoint, speed and course over the ground, and more. These new Loran C receivers were only one quarter the size of their predecessors, and yet the information that they were capable of producing astounded the boating community. Although the very early versions of these new Lorans sold for about $3,500.00, it wasn't long before new lower cost models became available. In 1979 SRD Labs of California, introduced the micro sized MLX Loran , which we sold for $995.00, an incredibly low price for a Loran C. Never before had we seen the price for absolute state of the art equipment drop at such a rapid rate. A scenario it seems, that we would see repeated throughout the next twenty years.
After nearly a decade in the electronics business, we came to the realization that the amount of effort needed to operate a marine business in the summer is tremendous, while in the winter it's fairly minimal. To help offset the decreasing need for labor during the winter, Rodgers began thinking of different ways to utilize the company's manpower. Numerous ideas for wintertime projects were tossed around, until one particular idea surfaced that we all agreed on.
Rodgers had noticed that a few yacht brokers in Oregon, Washington, and Canada, were importing new Taiwan built motor yachts and sailboats. By taking advantage of Taiwan's extremely low labor rate and favored nation tax status, a boat dealer could import a yacht for thousands of dollars less than a comparable yacht built in the United States. Since he was in the market for a new boat for himself, the idea of buying a yacht direct from Taiwan was greatly appealing.
Immunized and with passports in hand, Rodgers, Milly, and I boarded a 747 bound for the orient. We spent the first four days of our "boat buying" trip in Tokyo, adjusting to the time zone change and doing a little sightseeing.
As we stepped off the plane in Taipei, Taiwan, I was absolutely amazed at the stark contrast between the two countries. Japan being quite modern and technologically advanced, while Taiwan in 1978 was more, how do you say... rustic!
The buildings in downtown Taipei had corrugated steel roll up doors, facing out to the street or alleys. Only as the doors went up the next morning, were we able to see all of the manufacturing activity. Everywhere you looked, different products were being assembled for export.
The majority of the industrial plants used coal fired smelters or furnaces, leaving the air a foul grayish brown color. Water that ran from the tap was a similar brownish color, which permanently altered the color of our clothes that had been to the laundry.
Open-air markets lined the back alleys, selling every thing from chicken's feet to pig's ears. On one occasion, we witnessed a small pickup cruising down the street, and in its bed lay, unwrapped, freshly butchered meat. Although very different from our standards, I must say the food was very good. The only meal I had a problem with was carp in a crock pot!
Spending two or three days at each boatyard gave us a good idea of what each yacht builder had to offer. We visited the Formosa, Universal, CT(Ta-Yang), CHB(Chung Hwa), Lein Hwa, Hudson and Bluewater boatyards. All of the trawlers were built by hand and looked good at a distance, but when you got close it was sometimes a very different story. After three weeks of scrutinizing all the different boatyards, we had a good idea of which boats we were going to order.
Our first choice was a Formosa 40 tricabin trawler with twin Ford Lehman engines. When the yacht arrived in the spring of 1979, it already had an owner, waiting to take delivery.
Unfortunately the idea of commissioning boats as a winter project didn't work as well as we had planned. The boats would arrive sporadically throughout the entire year, needing to be rigged for immediate delivery. Rodgers did eventually get his own trawler, and continued to sell Chung Hwa and Bluewaters until 1981, when fuel prices skyrocketed and interest rates hit 14%. At that time the market for new boats crashed and we ceased importing Taiwan yachts for sale.
...............TO BE CONTINUED!
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