World Radio put Council Bluffs on the cutting edge of technology

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by W0PV, Jan 14, 2019 at 1:09 AM.

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  1. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Back in the late 60's with a group of ham buddies from the Twin Cities area I made a road trip down to visit WRL, the amateur radio enterprise of Leo WØGFQ. The new Galaxy brand rigs were a sight to behold. Opinions may vary on the quality of their later designs and venture into CB, but glad to see such historic pride and fond remembrance still making it into the local press today. Hope you enjoy too.

    73, John, WØPV

    PS - love that small town newspaper name, "The Daily Nonpareil"

    [​IMG]

    World Radio put Council Bluffs on the cutting edge of technology

    “High tech” wasn’t always synonymous with Silicon Valley. For many years, it was Council Bluffs that was home to one of the most innovative electronics companies in the country.

    What was most recently known as World Radio, actually traces it’s origin back to one individual. Leo Meyerson (WØGFQ) began tinkering with electronics at the age of 9, turning oatmeal boxes and even toilet paper rolls into radio coils. Meyerson was born in Omaha, but the family moved to Council Bluffs when he was 8 after his father got a job with Peoples Department Store.

    Despite his fascination with radio, Meyerson almost embarked on a music career. To earn a little money to support his radio hobby, he started playing the organ to accompany silent films at the Liberty Theater. He found he enjoyed it and was good at it. At the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, he formed a piano duo with friend Leo Skalowski. “Leo and Leo” had their big break when a talent scout lined up an audition for them for the Orpheum circuit. Tragedy struck on the way to the audition when Skalowski died in a car accident. Discouraged, Meyerson left school and returned to Council Bluffs.

    Using a $1,000 loan from his father and a budget so tight he slept in his car at night, Meyerson started a radio parts store at Seventh and Broadway in Council Bluffs. He called the store Scientific Radio Products Company. Meyerson expanded the scope of the business by taking old radios as a trade-in and repairing them for resale, as well as soliciting mail orders under the name Wholesale Radio Laboratories.

    When World War II broke out, most regional beneficiaries of the government’s war spending were on the Nebraska side of the river, but Meyerson’s company garnered large military contracts for the production of quartz radio crystals.

    The wartime demand for radio crystals — the component that communications equipment used to determine operation frequency — was acute. Meyerson changed his focus toward production of quartz crystals to sell to the Signal Corps. Working with his father and others, he was able to devise ways to mass produce the crystals, accelerating what had up to this point been a slow and time consuming process.

    The initial order of 10,000 crystals was followed by more orders. The Council Bluffs company met the demand, earning several awards from the U.S. Army and Navy for it’s fine and timely work in the process. At the peak of wartime production, the company employed several hundred people and even had it’s own company newspaper, the Crystal Gazer. William Petersen, a friend of Meyerson, likewise produced crystals locally. Petersen Radio Company was located at 28th and Broadway.

    Following the war, Meyerson’s company continued as World Radio Laboratory, focusing on equipment for ham radio operators. They were one of the first to make amateur radio gear available in kit form. The company is also credited as a pioneer of transceivers — a combination transmitter and receiver in one unit.

    While working with World Radio, Meyerson also formed several related companies. Globe Electronics introduced one of the first Citizen’s Band radios in the mid-1950s. It’s Globe Scout and Globe King transmitters became ham radio legends. Meyerson also formed the World Radio Export Company and Galaxy Electronics. Under the Galaxy name, Meyerson positioned himself as a technology leader by marketing one of the first single side band transceivers available to radio amateurs.

    The company built a large facility in the 3400 block of West Broadway in 1954 to house its manufacturing, local sales and mail order operation. “The House the Hams Built” featured a tall tower of antennas on Broadway connected to a variety of ham radios that were always up and running, with radio amateurs welcome to stop in and chat around the world. The firm offered free Morse code classes for aspiring radio operators and stocked every electronic part and component imaginable for those who wanted to build or repair their own gear.

    Just days before the move to the new building, a passerby saw smoke from the old building at 7 a.m. He pounded on doors of the second floor apartments to awaken the residents; the portion of the second floor that had housed Boyle’s Business College was vacant, but there were 11 occupied apartments. Damage was extensive and firemen had to use caution due to toxic gasses produced when heat attacked a 50-gallon drum of carbon tetrachloride in the basement.

    Leo Meyerson brought in son Larry, who took over as president of the company. In the 1960’s, consumer electronics came on the scene and World Radio Laboratory — by then known simply as WRL — changed it’s focus to providing the home entertainment gear that was coming into demand. The company did well in the citizens band (CB) radio boom of the 1960s and ‘70s, manufacturing the popular Rustler and Rustler II radios at their Council Bluffs plant and sold nationally at competitive prices.

    The company also expanded beyond Council Bluffs, at it’s peak operating 24 stores in four states under the World Radio name. In 1989, sales were estimated at $40 to $45 million dollars, making it at that time one of the largest electronic equipment retail chains.

    The Meyersons sold World Radio. Since then, the intense competition of the consumer electronics business caused first the consolidation of the operation into just a few stores and eventually closure of the company entirely.

    Leo Meyerson retired to California. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 100.

    — The Historical and Preservation Society can be reached at information@TheHistoricalSociety.org.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019 at 1:19 AM
    K5CQA, K0IDT, KD2DIG and 12 others like this.
  2. W7UUU

    W7UUU QRZ Lifetime Member #133 Volunteer Moderator Life Member Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    WONDERFUL story!!! I loved WRL. Almost every night I call CQ at least a time or three on my Globe Scout 680 (same model I had as a Novice in 1975 - and it was pretty old then!), paired right now with an HQ-180.

    They were indeed a wonderful company back then.

    Dave
    W7UUU
     
    K1LKP, K9ASE, K9SS and 2 others like this.
  3. WA6MEM

    WA6MEM Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks for the great story. Leo was a true leader in the amateur radio world.

    Gary
    WA6MEM
     
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  4. W9KFB

    W9KFB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    My father Robert Cox (K0DVO) and I (W9KFB) started out in ham radio with a Heathkit AT-1 and a a Hallacrafters s-38D. In less than a year (1956-1957) dad upgraded us to the WRL Globe Scout and a better Hallacrafters receiver (s-85?). Of course we had to have a VFO, so we got a Heathkit VFO and plugged it into the WRL Globe Scout. After getting the General Class license, we needed to upgrade again. This time it was a WRL Globe Champion. I can still remember the glow of those Mercury Vapor Rectifiers as the AM modulation made them wink and blink. We got the Globe Champ as a kit, and after building it we had problems. So dad packed up the Globe Champ and me, and we drove from Corning, Iowa to WRL in Council Bluffs, Iowa, only about 70 miles on US 34 straight west of our farm.
    There dad convinced Leo to run the rig down the production line to correct any mistakes we may have made building it. We picked up the rig, took it home, and used it for years after that. The last use of it was after I graduated from Iowa State University. I used it for a while in Kokomo, Indiana where I worked for Delco Radio Division of General Motors in 1964-1967 time frame
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019 at 5:20 AM
  5. K0IDT

    K0IDT Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Spent more than a few hours in the store and later, after Hy-Gain bought most of the amateur line, worked on some of the Galaxy gear.
    If you ever come across a Galaxy R-530 see if the owner/seller has a bunch of handwritten alignment notes, my fingerprints are all over those.

    Good times then.
     
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  6. KB0KDX

    KB0KDX Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks for posting! I really enjoyed this story and the priceless photo. I love Ham Radio history.
     
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  7. WB9MSM

    WB9MSM XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thank you for the great article. I never really new much of the history of WRL. My QRZ page shows the WRL transmitter that I used back in 1970 as a novice. Lots of fond memories about those early rigs from yesteryear! 73 for now from Wisconsin, Denny WB9MSM
     
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  8. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    In this wacky world where we think the US is --just-- an "innovation economy", and stuff gets MANUFACTURED 6 time zones away , its good to see this reminder of who we are (in the US).

    We haven't transitioned out of that mold.

    We are not a nation (just of) shopkeepers....

    Thanks for reminding us, John.

    The Artie Collins story is also extremely interesting, and equally (in the end) unfortunate. If someone wants to tell that, I can fill in blanks.

    73
    Chip W1YW
     
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  9. WB6NPM

    WB6NPM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Fond memories. When I was first licensed as WN0EFR in the early 70s, I made a trip from southern Minnesota to WRL and bought my first receiver.A used Heathkit SB300.

    I had purchased a Globe Chief Deluxe from a local ham and I was on the air.

    I still have a WRL US call area map on my wall and Leo looks over me every time I am on the air.

    Rick, WB6NPM,
     
    K9SS likes this.
  10. KE0XQ

    KE0XQ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I had the good opportunity to meet Leo at a ham friends (WØQQN-SK) house after I got my Novice license. What a great person. I remember when he went to Palm Springs in the
    winter. He and his wife flew there and he had a person drive his car there. He was down to earth and always liked to chat. He truly was an asset to Amateur Radio.

    Bill Mc Collum, KEØXQ
    Omaha, NE
     
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