Remember your parents telling you all the horrible things that would happen if you hung out with “them,” the wrong crowd?
Perhaps no truer verification of your folks’ warnings is the sad tale of Patricia Campbell Hearst.
For those of you too young to know or too stoned to remember, Patty Hearst was just your average California billionaire heiress, the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, builder of Hearst’s Castle and inspiration for the Orson Welles legendary film Citizen Kane.
On Feb. 4, 1974 19-year-old Patty was kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment by a nascent urban terrorist group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army.
The SLA said they would release Patty in return for $400 million in food for the needy, but settled on $6 million.
They didn’t like the food quality and refused to let Patty go. She must not have liked the food either because shortly thereafter Patty announced she had joined the SLA and changed her name to Tania.
Within a week of that announcement, Tania was photographed wielding an M1 rifle helping the SLA rob a San Francisco bank.
She was captured a year later, on trial about a year after that. (F. Lee Bailey was her attorney. Dad paid for F. Lee’s services, not the SLA.) High powered defense dream team notwithstanding, Tania was convicted and spent nearly two years in the slammer before Jimmy Carter commuted her 22-year sentence. She was later granted a full pardon.
CE brands can end up with the wrong crowd, too.
Sometimes that can be mismanaging wrong, sometimes just with a group that is not encouraging the brand’s full potential, or worse, just leaving it to wither away in a drawer full of intellectual property purchases. Here are some of their stories.
Acoustic Research (AR)
: Founded in 1952 by audio pioneer Edgar Villchur and his student Henry Kloss, AR is Brand Zero in the hierarchy of the Cambridge, Mass. Speaker Mafia. They invented and patented acoustic suspension speakers which, broadly speaking, produced more bass in a smaller cabinet. Henry left (more on that coming up); Edgar sold out to Teledyne, an early technology holding company; they sold it to Jensen; Jensen was bought by Recoton, who was bought by Audiovox. So today we have no-fi Bluetooth Christmas ornaments and cable off a rack from Shenzhen instead of the best turntable ever made.
: Stood for Analog & Digital Systems, another greater Cambridge, Mass. company. They were originally an importer of German-made Braun (yes, the shaving razor folks) speakers before making and branding some mighty fine loudspeakers of their own. They were the favorite of PRO group styled specialty retailers of the 1980s and 1990’s. As many of those folded or were bought out, the survivors looked for higher margin, not sonic quality. Last know stop was at the massive brand collector DEI who had the line parked in a cupboard somewhere instead favoring “hipper” brands like Polk and DefTech.
: The epitome of European engineering in the heyday of audio. This German company made turntables that looked good, worked really well and stood up. They moved on to make cassette decks, then receivers and speakers, most of those designed for the European market. Dual was bought by Thompson of France (the folks that also bought RCA) who did little with the brand. Thompson spun it off to Schneider (unfortunately no relation) Electric, who let Dual die. The brand was purchased by TCL Holdings of – wait for it – Shenzhen China who now sells $50 car stereos to the likes of Walmart.
: Kloss’ second company. Henry knew speakers and started there, but he was also a visionary. The company might be best known for the highly successful line of compact stereos that brought real hi-fi to millions of cramped college dorm rooms in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I can say with firsthand experience that the compacts had a special appeal to women. At that time it was owned by Singer (yup, sewing machines) who did surprisingly little to mess with it. KLH changed hands a few more time. Kyocera (uhuh-copiers) tried their hand with little success and sold the brand to a “manu-pack-tuer” called Verit Industies. $60 a pair KLH “speakers” live out their remaining days in the raging dumpster fire we’ve come to know as Kmart.
: I am including this brand because the blog needs at least one hijacked company that met with a happy ending! Since Saul Marantz started back in 1952, Marantz has been kidnapped, beaten up and left for dead more than any company I can think of. In the mid 1960s, Saul sold the company to Superscope which has been, until then, the exclusive and original U.S. distributor for Sony. Seeking a Japanese partner to contain costs, Superscope teamed up with Standard Radio of Japan who ultimately changed their name to Marantz Japan (MJI). Then Superscope sold everything except the U.S. and Canada rights to Philips (more on them later). Those North American rights went to Dynascan whose primary business was Cobra radar detectors. All the while Marantz suffered horribly. In the early 1990s the Dynascan deal ended and Philips took over in the US. It was about to become just another Philips non-brand when B&O of America convinced the Dutch that Marantz had a specialty legacy that could be re-established. B&O gave control back to MJI which later merged with Denon to form D&M Holdings, now D-M Group. Whew! And Marantz survived it all.
: The quintessence of what the top of the specialty audio food chain came to embody, “Nak” (as those of us who loved it called it) had quite the run from the 1970s through the 1990s. And most of their fame came from cassette decks—the finest cassette decks in the world. Who can forget the 1000ZXL or the Dragon? A little institutional arrogance had Nakamichi branching out into a less than stellar launch of a full electronics line (1986, Hilo Hawaii, Peter Graves from TV’s Mission Impossible—Man! What an event.) Then their first generation of uber-expensive CD players nearly all blew up and the bloom was off the rose. Nak couldn’t survive their product issues compounded by the late 1990s Japanese bubble. Soon they were acquired by a (guess) Hong Kong company who plastered the brand all over a bunch of cheap, almost dollar store, electronics. As Apple and Dr. Dre sell Beats for hundreds of bucks, you can get a full size Nakamichi headphone at Sears for $9.95.
: Philips? That’s odd, you’re thinking. Which wrong crowd did they fall in with? Philips had the misfortune of falling in with Philips, a company with engineering expertise par excellence, perhaps the best in the world, but has proven time and time again that they can’t market their way out of a paper bag. Philips, with Marantz’s help, had a chance to dominate the universal remote market but they got greedy and blew it for both companies. They invented the cassette. Don’t snicker, you millennials, the cassette revolutionized not only audio but human culture worldwide. They were one measly algorithm away from being able to take sole credit for inventing the CD. Sony had that final algorithm (and not much else) and held out for joint credit. Just what does Philips have to show for all that? No U.S. CE brand presence having sold and unsold and sold their brands again to Japan’s Funai. Debt and losses in this decade that have rivaled Greece. In America their brand sits on flood light bulbs, electric shavers and sleep apnea masks.
: This was a quiet line of mostly audiophile quality “separates” (pre-amplifiers and power amplifiers) that held their own against more powerfully marketed brands during the 1960s through most of the 1980s. Their first product was actually an equalizer, hitherto pretty unknown to the hi-fi community but common and essential to pro audio. That was followed by the industry’s first combination pre-amplifier/equalizer. The stuff sounded great and had relatively few of the quality issues that plagued many high-end manufacturers. (Hello, Bob Carver. Howdy, early NAD—a.k.a Not Absolutely—or Always—Dependable.) Soundcraftsmen sold out to then 12 volt behemoth MTX where after a few flaccid attempts to relaunch the brand, today it just sits like an abandoned Plymouth on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Chuck Schneider is a freelance writer with a long history in consumer electronics. He started and restarted his award-winning manufacturer’s representative firm – Value Added Marketing – and was also a vice president and general merchandise manager for a multi-regional CE chain, as well as a buyer for Lechmere’s (a division of Target). Today, he is a freelance writer.