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Die Story über Ampex (7) von 12

Ein neues Ziel: Der Endkunde, der "Consumer"

The sounds of a ping pong game and a train roaring through the Ampex booth at the National Association of Music Merchants Show in the sum­mer of 1955 announced the Ampex entry into an entirely new field. The sounds enticed many major music stores to take a look at a new Ampex re­corder. The unit which drew their attention was the Model 612, the world's first stereophonic music system.

 

Having revolutionized radio, created instrumen­tation recording and developed a computer trans­port, Ampex was in pursuit of a new game - the consumer - and was using dramatic demonstration tapes to lure show visitors to the company booth. Ampex had an eye on the home market for tape recording products for several years. The com­pany's interest was prompted by the anticipated decline of professional audio sales. Once basic markets for the rugged and reliable professional recorders had been exhausted, there was little ex­pectation of replacement business. By the mid-fifties, the durability of the Model 200 and 300 re­corders had Ampex looking for new market areas for income.

 

The National Association of Music Merchants Show in 1955 was the first tentative tap Ampex gave the home market. The Model 612 was de­signed to appeal to the consumer with discriminat­ing tastes and a bankroll to indulge them. Ampex faced the consumer with no forewarning of what to expect from this unfamiliar audience. Train whistles came out of speakers to send a diesel crashing across the room, the ping-pong match had heads turning right to left and back again to follow the sound of the ball. A recorded conversation placed two men on opposite sides of the room, and a symphony orchestra surrounded and fascinated the audience with the separation of sound possible through this new concept in re­cording. In the year following the demonstration of the Model 612, "Have you heard stereo?" became the buzz phrase in hi-fi circles.

 

Robert A. Miner, then Marketing Manager for the Audio Division, remembers well the first Ampex demonstration for the consumer, "Everyone was fascinated by stereo and the Ampex recorder which made it possible. But it was little more than a novelty - a conversation tidbit for the 'in' sound hobbyists. The music lover enjoyed the demonstra­tions but was hot prompted to buy because there was only one prerecorded stereo tape on the mar­ket." Only a few dedicated sound hobbyists came forth to pay $700 for a 612 (at a time when they could purchase a monaural system in a console cabinet for about $300). "We were ahead of our time and we knew it," says Miner today, "but someone had to take the first step. When we decided to go after the con­sumer market, we know that sales for home use couldn't offset the development costs of the new two-track recorder. Our main purpose in that first excursion into the consumer market was to whet appetites for Ampex quality when the home tape recorder became a profitable reality.

 

A year later, in 1956, Ampex introduced the Se­ries A line of recorders, stereo units in table-tap wooden cabinets. At the same time, a new distri­bution system was established, tailored to con­sumer products. Phil Gundy, the manager of the Audio Division, and his sales staff met with music merchants and representatives of America's lead­ing music stores. Miner remembers, "We were overwhelmed by the reception we received. We had never experienced anything like it before."

 

Ampex had already established its name in the tight little community of radio and television broad­casters and record industry engineers, but it now faced a strange new audience - the consumer. For the first time, Ampex products were to appear in stores such as Marshall Field in Chicago, Grinnell's in Detroit, Wanamaker's in Philadelphia and Sherman-Clay in San Francisco. Stereo was an in­triguing new concept, incomes were rising in the peacetime years after Korea, and Ampex quality was recognized by music lovers and hi-fi people.

 

In developing the Series A line, Ampex engi­neers had taken technology developed for profes­sional recorders and, with economies in material and manufacturing costs, designed units appealing to serious music lovers and sound hobbyists. "Our first customers," recalls Miner, "ran the economic gamut, but they had one common trait: they appreciated music and a company that pro­vided the best recorded sound they had ever heard.

Price A Problem

Pricing, however, continued to be a problem. Ampex home recorders ranged from $500 for a re­cording deck to $1,000 for a complete console in­cluding record changer and AM/FM radio. This was out of the range of the man who "just likes music." Prerecorded tapes were more numerous, but also presented a price barrier. A seven-inch, two-track stereo tape could carry the same material contained on a less expensive long-playing record. There were buyers, but not enough to create a volume business.

 

Nevertheless, Ampex was stimulated by its in­troduction to the consumer market and soon an­nounced formation of a subsidiary, Ampex Audio, Inc., which would be devoted exclusively to this market. In 1956, Ampex had annual sales of ap­proximately $10 million and employed some 1,200 people housed in 17 buildings in Redwood City. On March 18, 1957, ground was broken in Sunny­vale, California, to accommodate the newly formed subsidiary. (Videofile Information Systems Division today occupies this building.)

 

In July of the following year, when Ampex Audio Inc., which was managed by Herb Brown, occupied its new quarters, the consumer line was expanded to include console models in various furniture styles. Now the company could offer a system for personal use in a formal living room, a den, even in an office. But the restraint that continued to bind the business - stereo tapes cost too much, were inconvenient to handle and offered only a frac­tion of the selections on long-play records. Soon stereo became available on disc. When manufac­turers perceived stereo as the new direction for recorded music, they jumped on the bandwagon and conducted marketing campaigns, which rap­idly convinced consumers to turn up their noses at monaural music. Virtually all record players sold beginning in 1957 were stereophonic.

The four-track stereophonic recording head

The problem of tape pricing stimulated the Am­pex pioneering spirit. It knew it would have to create a method of building a more economical tape library. The company turned to the source of the answers to all its previous product problems - its engineers. After brief but concentrated with­drawal to the Ampex engineering laboratory, the company introduced the four-track stereophonic recording head in June 1958. This new head meant that a recorder could now accommodate a four-track tape, allowing one tape to contain as much material as two L.P. records and could make tape competitive with discs for the first time. The head allowed two channels of material to be recorded in one direction and, after turning the tape over, two channels in the opposite direction.

 

At the introduction of the four-track head, Ampex hoped to spur tape duplicators into immediately bringing out four-track prerecorded tapes, and thereby stimulating sales of stereo tape recorders. But as Ampex waited for a duplication company to see the potential in four-track tape, nothing hap­pened. Again, Ampex was a step ahead of its time and became restless.

A New Business

The company saw four-track tape as an eventual profit maker and decided, since no one else would pick up its lead, Ampex would go into the prere­corded tape business itself. In July, 1959, Ampex Audio had rounded up tape duplication rights for "some of the leading disc labels". In its initial four-track stereo tape library, marketed under the name United Stereo Tapes, were Verve, MGM, Warner Bros, and Mercury recordings. The

UST facility was originally located in Bloomfield, New Jersey, close to the East Coast music market.

 

When the first Ampex prerecorded tape release, Ella Fitzgerald's "Like Someone in Love," ap­peared in the racks only a small number of devoted audiophiles acknowledged the event. The tape re­corder market was small, and tape sales were meager. Almost ten years later, when an Aretha Franklin tape was introduced by Ampex, 40,000 copies were sold in 48 hours. Today, Ella also creates a stir when she comes out on a new Ampex album which will take its place next to 6,500 other selections in the Ampex Stereo Tapes (new name) library.

 

In 1959 Ampex gained a new label which was to become very significant in the early growth of the stereo tape field - London Records. London signed a five-year contract which has been renewed regu­larly since.

Within 18 months after Ampex introduced the four-track head in 1958, 750,000 tape recorders had been sold by major manufacturers. A true con­sumer market was in the making. Companies which had moved into the business were: Bell Sound, Viking, Pentron, Telectrosonic, Tandberg, Super-scope, Magnecord, Revere-Webcore, Wollensak, Webster, Heath and Voice of Music.

 

Sales of recording products for the home in­creased quarter after quarter, providing a signifi­cant contribution to Ampex earnings. With the potential that the consumer market held clearly in sight, many manufacturers began developing prod­ucts with lower price tags and lesser quality. Ampex retained its position as the quality leader in the market and for the new few years made no effort to develop lower cost lines. If you look at the consumer market as a pyramid, with a small number of sales at the high quality, high price summit and rapidly widening sales as cost and quality come down, Ampex in 1962 was the leader in the top fifth of the pyramid. This was a position the campany was confident it could re­tain but which offered little growth potential.

Broader Market Penetration

In 1963, as the company continued its recovery from losses incurred in 1961, the decision was made to move aggressively downward in the mar­ket pyramid, with products designed specifically for the entire upper third of the market. The Con­sumer and Educational Products Division was launched in August, 1963, initially with a dozen people in temporary quarters in Park Ridge, Illi­nois. In 1964, the rapidly growing division moved into a new building at 2201 Landmeier Road, Elk Grove Village. The midwestern location was chosen for proximity to major markets and sources of com­ponents and recognized that it represented a brand new business for Ampex.

 

Initially, the division assumed marketing of the high quality F-44 series of audio recorders devel­oped by Ampex Audio in Sunnyvale and the UST-4, a temporary lower-cost unit manufactured for Am­pex to permit development of a marketing organi­zation in anticipation of the division's own new products. Significantly, United Stereo Tapes also became a part of the new division and changed its name to Ampex Stereo Tapes.

 

In June, 1964, the first products of the new di­vision were introduced at a press conference in New York. The prestige earned by earlier Ampex innovations in tape recording assured wide interest in this major move into the consumer field. The market was not disappointed. The initial products of the division, the 2000 and 1000 series recorders, established a new trend in consumer recorders. Gone was the old tube-tester look in tape recorders and in its place were beau­tifully styled models that would grace any room. The 2000 clearly reached out in a new direction to attract music lovers rather than hobbyists with two significant innovations -automatic reversing and simplified tape threading. With automatic re­versing, the listener could for the first time play both sides of a tape "album" without handling the tape - a clear-cut advantage over record players. The simplified threading device overcame many of the objections of previous recorder users who found threading reels a nuisance. With these fea­tures came the best performance specifications ever offered in the $300 to $500 range.

 

The 2000 Series has been credited with stimu­lating the subsequent rapid growth of the market for consumer tape recorders. Other manufacturers rapidly followed with competitive convenience fea­tures. Hand in hand with the new recorders - which clearly emphasized the music listening role of the recorder as opposed to the recording function - Ampex Stereo Tapes began aggressively expand­ing its catalogue, and prerecorded tape sales rose.

 

Over the next few years, Ampex carved out a substantial portion of a market it had never served before - the consumer market from roughly $300 and up. As Ampex and other firms brought un­precedented quality to these lower price ranges, the market grew rapidly, with vigorous activity in the lower end of this range.

 

Competitor are on the way

As the division contemplated further penetra­tion of the consumer market "pyramid," two other developments had major impact on management thinking. One was the development of the eight-track cartridge for automobile stereo systems by Lear Jet; the other the development of the cassette recorder by Philips of Holland.

 

The eight-track cartridge, which houses an end­less loop of lubricated tape in a small plastic box, made its debut in 1965. It was not the first at­tempt at doing away with tape threading by en­closing tape in a small container, but it was the first to gain wide acceptance. The automobile in­dustry adopted it as an optional accessory for new cars and gave it intensive promotion. By 1967, sales were soaring, almost exclusively for the auto­mobile market. To satisfy demand for prerecorded eight-track music, Ampex Stereo Tapes expanded its offering and began a period of unprecedented growth.

Efforts to make the eight-track cartridge popular for home use as well as the automobile made less headway, partly because of the virtual impossibility of recording with the cartridge. It remains essentially a playback system. The Consumer and Educational Products Division considered the possibility of marketing eight-track players for the home but decided against it because of the cassette.

The Philips Cassette Bows

A fourth the size of the cartridge, the CC cassette was introduced in 1963 by Philips. It again is a plastic box housing tape but contains two reels rather than the endless loop of the cartridge. It easily permits recording as well as playback, in fact it was originally marketed only in a monaural format for voice recording. Battery-powered cas­sette recorders gained widespread acceptance first in Europe then rapidly throughout the world as many manufacturers adopted the concept under license to Philips.

 

In 1966, Philips introduced stereo units for home listening as well as recording. Ampex management saw in the cassette the best approach for broadening participation in the lower end of the consumer market. While not a high fidelity device, the cassette recorder/player had the potential of making tape truly popular as a means of hearing music - at home, in the car, or virtually anywhere.

 

In 1967, Ampex became the first U.S. manufac­turer to introduce cassette stereo units, a move which had great impact on the U.S. market. Of equal important, Ampex Stereo Tapes became the first major source of prerecorded cassette music, without which the equipment could not succeed.

 

Today, the newly established Consumer Equip­ment Division (formed by a reorganization of the Consumer and Education Products Division) offers a wide array of monaural and stereo cassette re­corders and players starting at $30, with lines of open-reel units in the higher end. Ampex Stereo Tapes Division is a leading producer of all major formats of prerecorded music and entertainment.

 

To support the widespread marketing effort such a broad product line requires, the Ampex Service Company was formed in 1966 and was given inde­pendent division status in September of 1968. With factory service centers in more than 15 locations and contract service representatives in more than 200 others, Ampex has certainly come a long way since the recorded ping pong game and the diesel engine in 1955.

 

At the same time Ampex was establishing new trends in audio recording, the consumer market was being tantalized by the prospect of a home videotape recorder - a device that will permit in­stant home "movies" or the recording and play­back of prized television entertainment. As the initial developer of videotape recording, Ampex has long been aware of the potentialities of such a device, such a market.

 

Home Video Recording

As it had with early stereo machines, Ampex dramatized the potential of a home videotape re­corder in 1963 by building several futuristic home entertainment systems, that incorporated the new VR-660 videotape recorder. Called the Signature V, the 10-foot console system was featured in the famous Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue of 1963 with a dazzling $30,000 price tag. Subse­quently it was used at trade shows and consumer exhibits where the concept of videotape recording and Ampex received wide comment and attention.

 

In 1965, the Consumer and Educational Products Division introduced a new series of helical-scan videotape recorders for closed-circuit use - the VR-7000 and VR-6000 series. Priced from approxi­mately $1,000 to $3,000, these recorders launched an important market for closed circuit television training and communications. To capitalize on consumer industry interest in the home videotape recorder, early models were offered in furniture configurations; a few were sold as consumer re­corders.

 

However, the home videotape recorder contin­ues to await further reduction in size and the avail­ability of good quality color cameras and record­ers at a lower price. In the meantime, thousands of users in industry, government and education are becoming accustomed to the videotape recorder as a valuable tool. The true home videotape re­corder represents an important future chapter of the Ampex story.

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