Oral History Transcript — Dr. Leo Beranek
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Leo Beranek; September 30, 1989
ABSTRACT: Born in Iowa in 1914, Dr. Beranek's research focuses on acoustics and Noise Control Magazine. After obtaining his Ph.D. from Harvard University in June 1940 in "communication physics", he was appointed the director of the Electro-Acoustics Laboratory at Harvard. It was in the course of war work in the early 1940s that he became interested in airborne acoustics and Noise Control Magazine, a field in which he would remain active through the Noise Control Magazine Act of 1972. Most notable contributions were in the fundamentals of electro acoustics, speech communication systems for noisy environments, and aircraft noise. Dr. Beranek was as also important contributor to the formation of professional groups in the field of audio. Professional distinctions include his presidencies of the Acoustical Society of America and later the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (beginning in 1988). Outside of acoustics, Dr. Beranek served as director of the Wang Computer Company and a member of the Massachusetts Committee on Judicial Ethics.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Lang:This is a very enjoyable experience for me. I'm interviewing Leo Beranek from his beautiful living room overlooking the Charles River, on the last day of September, September 30th, 1989. And we're going to have a lot of fun this morning as we conduct this very interesting interview. Leo, I know that you were born in Solon, Iowa, on September 15, 1914. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your family and your early life between the end of the decade that included World War I, up to the time that you went to Harvard?
Beranek:Thank you, Bill. I'm glad to be here with you to talk about this early period. Nobody's asked me about it for about 20 years. I was born in a town called Solon, which had 500 people in it, in the middle of a farming community. My father at that time was a rural mail delivery man. He had a horse-drawn buggy in which he delivered the mail on his route in the farm country. That was his principal business. About the first thing I can remember was, when I was about three years old, on some occasion when the family was cutting up cabbages, to make sauerkraut. I remember I cut myself on the cutting mechanism. That's my first vivid knowledge of being alive in this world, including the fussing around over getting me healed up and back to normal. In any event, we lived in town until I was about three and a half years old. My father then decided to go out on his father's farm. My grandfather had decided to get off the farm because he didn't want to do that hard work any more. I forgot to mention that before Grandfather went in the farm, he ran a livery business, which was like a Hertz rental system only using horses. Of course the automobile had come in about the time that he decided to go to the farm. I never figured out how that went. But the livery stable still stands, an old stone building in Solon. I have a photograph showing the facade, saying "Beranek and Son, Livery Stables." When my father was young they rented buggies. When traveling salesmen came to Solon they would rent a Beranek buggy.
Lang:Was the family farm also in Iowa?
Beranek:Also in Iowa, only about three miles away from Solon. It was the homestead place, the Beraneks got it about 1850.
Lang:They'd moved from Czechoslovakia?
Beranek:Well, my father's parents were born in this country and so were my mother's, but the Beraneks, my grandfather's parents emigrated from Czechoslovakia near Prague in the late 1840s. Land was selling in Iowa for a dollar an acre, and that was the big attraction to which brought these Middle-European farmer types to this country. There were brokers who would bring them over and take a mortgage on their farm to pay their passage. They had to work it off and pay him back later, probably at pretty handsome rates for all I know. Those on my mother's side were born in Germany. They were Lutherans and came to this country about the same time. My grandfather on one side had been a farmer, that's the Beranek side, and on the other side, the family's name was Stahle, which means in German, "steel." He was a professional builder and carpenter. In fact, he built the town hall in Solon and he and his crew working for him built a lot of buildings principally around Solon and on some of the farms.
Lang:In the old country, there is a Hotel Beranek in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Are there any relatives left back there?
Beranek:Well, the name "Beranek" is common. It means "lamb." And in some ways it's almost as common as Brown in this country, so you can't decide who's a relative without going to a lot of work. But my heritage was in the farmlands of Czechoslovakia. In fact, one of the family members about 35 years ago went back to Czechoslovakia and found the home that they had emigrated from, in the country. I don't have any records on that.
Lang:Did you have any brothers or sisters?
Beranek:I had one brother, and then my father had two brothers and no sisters, so there were two uncles. The whole business of religion was always a muddle in my family. I started off being raised a Catholic, and so did my father and his two brothers. Then the two brothers had a scrap with the priest, so they changed over to the Methodist Episcopal Church and stayed there the rest of their lives and were buried in what was called the Protestant cemetery. My father stayed Catholic until my mother died, when I was age 11. We'll get to that in a little while. I might as well finish the religion story quickly. And then he married a Protestant woman, and he went to the Episcopal Church after that, and so I was brought up after age 11 in the Protestant Church.
Lang:The Episcopal Church.
Beranek:Yes, or Methodist Episcopal, because when I went to Cornell it was Methodist Episcopal.
Lang:I'm an Episcopalian. Are the Methodist Episcopals Episcopalians, are they related, or are they not?
Beranek:Well, they're related because the services are very similar, and I think that's why they call it the Methodist Episcopal, trying to distinguish it from the Congregationalists who were more liberal, that is, less interested in formality. In any event, coming back to my life on the farm, we went on the farm when I was about three and a half and I did enjoy that period of growing up out in the country, and getting to see animals. Within a year, one of my father's brothers got married and decided to move in on my father without really asking him, the reason being that it was their parents' farm. Apparently he didn't see why my father should have the advantage of the farm when he didn't have anything, so he and his bride just moved in. The two women didn't get along at all, in the same house, so Dad and my mother pulled out and rented a farm in Tipton, Iowa, and stayed there for one year. Dad and mother then decided they wanted to come back to Solon and bought a farm a mile outside of town. Dad paid a very high price for it. That was in 1920. He took out a mortgage with only a small down-payment. My mother died in 1926, so we were six years on this farm. By then the economy had changed and the farm was worth half as much, so he was in a financial mass, 1926 was the start of the downtrend that led directly to the Depression. Let us come back to the period when we returned to Solon, on the farm. And I was then, in second grade, because I took my first grade in Tipton. My school was in the town of Solon, only a mile's walk from home. I walked to school every day and back. The experience was different, being in a town school instead of a one room school house (which was still common in Iowa). In the third grade, the teacher decided that I was a nuisance and was learning things too fast, so they promoted me to the fourth grade. In the fourth grade I really had to get down to work because I found out it was quite a change. The educational experience was completely different, instead of reading and the multiplication tables I had to learn some history and geography, and better English. I got good grades all the way through those years from third up to seventh grade. It was while I was in the seventh grade that my mother died from pneumonia. This was pretty traumatic for both my father and me. He decided he couldn't run the farm alone. So he put the farm on the market and sold it at auction, losing half of what he paid for it. He couldn't pay his mortgage off, so we moved in then with my grandfather and grandmother, in town, in Solon. After grandfather left the farm he ran a filling station. When my mother died I was in seventh grade. School was more serious, and I remember being in plays and having to take classes in speech. About that time, I decided that I had to learn a musical instrument. First I tried a trombone, and found that wasn't very interesting. The music teacher in the school band needed a bass horn, so he talked me into trying to learn to play the school's bass horn. I didn't like it either. Then one day Dad was talking to a fellow in Solon who had a set of trap drums. He used to be a drummer in the town band. The fellow said, "Your son ought to learn to play drums," and Dad said, "Why?" "Well, because there's always a need for drummers. There are too many violinists and too many trumpet players, but nobody plays drums." So Dad went home and asked me if I wanted to play the drums. Well, I didn't know, but he said, "I think you do," so he bought the set of drums for me. I remember going over to this fellow's place and picking them up. The traps included a bass drum, about a yard in diameter, and a couple of feet thick, a snare drum, and cymbals attached on the top, and some wooden blocks. I bought the best drum book for learning at home that was available in the country. The C.G. Conn Co. made all kinds of school instruments for bands and orchestras, and sold these self-education books. This drum book was pretty good, also the band teacher could coach me a little also, although he couldn't play the drums. Actually I got fairly good at the drums. Even as early as the 8th grade I began to play in small groups around the town for some local parties. My father remarried when I was between my junior and sophomore year in high school, and we moved to Mount Vernon, Iowa. Mount Vernon is the home of Cornell College. There he bought a half-share in a hardware store with his first cousin, Gilbert Beranek. They called it "Beranek's Hardware". Now the country was heading into the Great Depression. That was 1928, and the Market Crash came in 1929. But the farm country was in the Depression already. Two things happened that affected my later life. One was that there was a local dance band that needed a drummer, and they asked me if I would join them and play for dances. They used to have a dance once or twice a week in the evening, in Mt. Vernon or Cedar Rapids (15 miles away). All through high school I played in the dance band. Then my father, running the hardware store, and his cousin took on a line of radios to sell, and the brand they sold was Atwater Kent, which was one of the better quality radios of that time. In fact, people spoke of RCA and Atwater Kent in the same breath.
Lang:Was that the one that had the loudspeaker sitting up on top, sort of a horn sort of pointing out at the…?
Beranek:Well, they'd got away from the horn by that time. They were already selling a cone loudspeaker, but it was not a moving coil yet. It was one of these moving iron things, driven by iron in a magnetic field. It didn't have enough deflection to give good bass, but it had pretty good high frequencies. The radios of that time, of course, used vacuum tubes. They were triodes when I started, so they were pretty easy to understand. And my father bought a correspondence course, from the International Correspondence Schools, on radio, which I studied at home, and actually learned a great deal from it. I thought that particular correspondence course was very well written. Dad asked me to be the repair man for the radios that he was selling, and that worked out pretty well. I learned pretty fast how to deal with people, and how to buy parts, got acquainted with supply houses. Of course, I had catalogues of replacement parts for Atwater Kent, but there were many other kinds of radios around, RCAs and some others. Crosley was another name that was big in those days. These I had to learn how to repair, and did, and I built up a part time business. Usually after school until 8 o'clock at night I took care of people's radios. I became known in Mount Vernon, Iowa, as the radio man. My father sold me his Model T coupe for 50 dollars, which was my way of getting around. Gasoline was about 8 cents a gallon, I think, so it didn't cost much. I remember a typical charge for fixing a radio was $5. That was about it. Also playing an evening with the dance band was about $5, in those days in the Midwest. Everything was about half the price in the Midwest because the Depression came early there. In the meantime, I was taking a great interest in math, and also ran on the high school track team. I ran the 100 yard dash and was the fastest guy in high school in the 100 yard dash. One year I won fourth place in the annual high school state meet that brought together contestants from 99 counties of Iowa. I won in the county already and came in fourth in the state. About school, the only things that I can remember of significance were that I enjoyed my science and math courses a great deal, and I was disgusted with the women, because in the physics classes, they couldn't wire a doorbell and make it ring. This was nothing for me, being able to fix radios, but they'd get A's too in class, because they seemed to memorize this stuff and get it right on the exams, and I always thought that that was completely unfair. I would hope that nowadays they could make bells ring. The other thing I remember was that in my senior year, I took the standardized math tests that were becoming available then. The state of Iowa decided to have a high school math competition.
Lang:Were these state tests or college boards?
Beranek:Well, I don't know the answer to that. I thought they were national tests, which would be college boards, but they were new, probably experimental. They were administered by the state. And in Iowa, they began with counties, and then the state would play the counties off against each other, I remember the superintendent of schools coming down to my radio shop one afternoon: "I just got word," he said, "from the results of the exams, and you came out highest in the county, and in fact your grade was twice as high as the next highest student in the county." So that meant at least I could handle math pretty well. I went to the state exam and didn't place. That was the start of my interest in math and high school science. From the band playing and the radio fixing I had saved about $400 by the end of high school. I had to decide where I was going to go to college, but it was pretty clear with the Depression on, I should stay at home and go to Cornell College which was in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
Lang:Had either of your parents been to college or your brother?
Beranek:My mother had.
Lang:Your mother had been to college.
Beranek:Yes. My father had gone to high school. My brother is seven years younger, so he was kind of out of my life at this time. Anyhow, I had $400 in the local bank. August came and school was to start right after Labor Day. This was 1931. About the 1st of August, I decided to take my $400 out of the bank and go over to the college and pay my tuition, although they didn't require it until the day you matriculated. So I went in the bank with my bank book and asked for my $400. The banker, the man who owned the bank, came out to see me, and said, "What are you going to do with the money?" I said, "I'm going to Cornell and pay my tuition." He said, "Well, if you were going to do anything else with it, I wouldn't give it to you." I didn't ask him why, because he gave me the money. I paid my tuition, and the bank didn't open the next morning! Everybody lost everything they had in it.
Lang:So the tuition was $400 in those days?
Beranek:That was a full year's tuition.
Lang:A full year's tuition. Because ten years later when I went to MIT, my fee was $600, so that shows you how much inflation-
Beranek:Harvard in graduate school was still $400 when I came here in 1936. So it was the same price in these schools all over the country, practically. Well, that was a lucky break for me. I don't know how at the last minute I would ever have arranged money. The schools in those days weren't inclined to give you student aid. You paid or you didn't go.
Lang:So after you paid your tuition for your freshman year, you were able through scholarships to work to pay your tuition for succeeding years?
Beranek:I didn't get scholarship help. I didn't ask for it, because I was always able from playing in the band and fixing radios to make a living, and there were lots of other students who were a lot worse off. I was well established in the town of Mt. Vernon. Everybody had used me as a repair man for their radios. Furthermore, I was playing with better bands by this time. I took some lessons from the drummer in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They would go to Cornell each spring and spend a week at Cornell. I took lessons then and I went into Chicago occasionally and took lessons.
Lang:This is about 300 miles from Chicago?
Beranek:Yes. You could take a train in. I remember taking an overnight train. It's more like 200 miles, but anyhow, it's on that order. So drumming was important to me. While in college, I lived one year with my parents. In 1932 my parents decided to leave Mount Vernon. The Depression had worsened. The hardware store wasn't making enough money for two people, and Dad decided he'd go off to Cedar Rapids, so he left with my step-mother. Then I was on my own. Each year something different happened. One year I stayed in a fraternity house, where I lived at half-rate, because of the Depression, it didn't fill up. Another year, four of us decided we'd take two big rooms over a bakery. They were very large rooms, I would say close to 30 feet long and 20 feet wide and 20 feet high. We four each had something to offer. One boy's father ran a second hand furniture store in Cedar Rapids, and so he brought over, free, four beds and mattresses, four bureaus, four chairs, and four desks. Another boy had a father who found an oil stove for him so we could heat the place. We had only one stove. It was a cylinder about a foot in diameter and four feet high, burned oil in the bottom, had a pipe that went up through the roof, and so we used that to heat the one room. The other room we never heated at all, except it was over the bakery and the bakery had ovens down below. So at least in the morning it would get warm again when they turned them on. By evening it would cool off. Another boy's father was on a farm, and he sent eggs and food. One of the other boys was going with the chief cook in a dormitory at Cornell. She was a woman, older than he was, and she used to give him whole cooked chickens. The boy, whose father furnished us with furniture, also was light-handed, and we would have delicacies from the stores, from which he stole roquefort cheese and stuff, completely illegal.
Lang:What was the total enrollment at Cornell College in these days?
Beranek:It's now a thousand.
Lang:All four years?
Beranek:Yes. We got through that year. My contribution to the living arrangement was money, because there were some things we had to buy. I used the proceeds of my radio repair business. We got through that year, with very little. Usually, we only cooked one dish each evening.
Lang:This was on the one stove?
Lang:It supplied the heat too?
Beranek:Yes, we only had one "burner," the top of the heater. We could only cook one thing. We had soup, or we could fry little steaks or something else, but that was it. That year was interesting. Another year, my last year there, I stayed in a cleaning establishment, and my job was to get up in the morning and start the steam furnace, so they'd have steam to press pants on the steam presses. I lived right in and I often wondered if the smell of the cleaning fluid wasn't bad for one's lungs. The place smelled terribly like cleaning fluid all the time. But it didn't kill me.
Lang:The young body is resilient.
Beranek:Yes. Then at the end of my sophomore year, which now was getting into 1933, things were really getting bad. The banks were closing everywhere.
Lang:When you were between freshman and sophomore must have been '33?
Lang:We're now going back to Cornell College, from which you graduated in 1936, Leo, so that between your sophomore and junior year, that must have been in the '33 time frame.
Beranek:In the middle of my junior year, things got bad enough that the radio repair business dropped off. And the band playing business dropped off. I wasn't making enough money to pay my tuition in the school. So I decided to take off a year and go to work. This was calendar year 1934. The Collins Radio Company had recently started up. You may remember, Collins eventually became the principal supplier of radios for all aviation.
Lang:Particularly during the war. That was at Cedar Rapids, right?
Beranek:Cedar Rapids. Yes. Mount Vernon was 16 miles away from Cedar Rapids.
Lang:I see. I can't remember whether Cedar Rapids is on the western side of Iowa or the eastern side.
Beranek:The eastern side.
Lang:Eastern side, so it's on the Illinois border.
Beranek:Well, it's in about 100 miles. Anyhow, I decided I wanted to work that year, so I can't tell you how I got my mind on Collins, except that I was fixing radios and I knew that Collins Radio was in that business. And I went to the Collins Company, walked in, and asked if I could talk to somebody about a job, and they said, "Why don't you go see Arthur Collins? He's the president." Arthur Collins quizzed me a little. I told him about my radio repairing, and he wanted to know if I could use a soldering iron, and the answer was yes, and did I know how to use test equipment? Of course I did, being in the radio repair business. And he said, "Fine, we'll hire you as an assistant in the engineering department." Now, "The engineering department," he said, "has one man in it, and his name is Samuelson, but we're going to enlarge it soon." And indeed while I was there it grew to six people, because Collins had received a big order to make radio transceivers for the Colombian government. That year I was suddenly thrown into a manufacturing business with a production line. Arthur Collins had invented a so-called "antenna tuner," which was used by all radio amateurs eventually. With it, they could optimize the impedance coupling between their amateur transmitter and the antenna. By turning a couple of knobs one could maximize the output to the antenna. His patent was so valuable that RCA gave him a free license on all of their patents in return for getting the right to use his impedance matcher. Collins was in very good shape, as a result. I worked for Collins Radio all of 1934. Arthur Collins was later recognized as one of the great pioneers in the radio industry. He built a great company and then made the mistake in the 1960s of trying to go into computers. He didn't do it right; his company got into trouble.
Lang:That was long, long after. He also made almost all of the transmitters for Navy fighters in World War II.
Beranek:And commercial aviation. When he got in trouble he had to sellout to Rockwell International. So I knew him well, because I worked as an assistant. In fact, he used me to run technical errands for him. When he didn't want to send an engineer who was busy on an assignment, he would send me to go for parts.
Lang:When was Collins Radio started, around 1930?
Beranek:Collins Radio started about '31. The thing that projected Collins into fame was that he built a transmitter that worked very well, built for amateurs, and Admiral Byrd decided to buy that transmitter and take it to the South Pole with him.
Lang:That was 1926, wasn't that the first? There were several Polar expeditions.
Beranek:It had to be around that time, 1931. This purchase got into all the trade magazines and projected him into fame as a maker of radio transmitters for amateurs. He never sold them for the broadcast industry, they were sold to amateurs first, and then he went into government sale. This brought him into selling transmitters for the Colombian government, and that led him eventually to the airplane transmitters.
Beranek:Yes. In fact, Collins called them "muleback transmitters," because they could be carried on mulebacks. And so, Collins Radio that year was very instructive for me. I got to know engineers for the first time, worked with them, I was their assistant. They'd use me for model making. They'd give me all the parts, and say, "You make a breadboard for us." That was my job.
Lang:The year you took off was essentially your junior year?
Beranek:I left in the middle of my junior year, and then I came back for the second half of the junior year. It was a good experience, because I learned a lot about electronics. We didn't call it electronics, ,the name then was radio. So then came the story I'm sure you got on the other tape, of how I got from Cornell to the East.
Lang:Yes, that was the flat tire story.
Beranek:I don't think we ought to repeat that.
Beranek:Now, what else do you want to pick up here?
Lang:Is there anything else, Leo, you can think of, in your youth, that influenced your choice of career?
Beranek:That's a good question. My mother wanted me to go to college, even though she died when I was 11 years old.
Lang:Where had she been to college?
Beranek:She'd gone to Iowa State Teachers College.
Lang:Her college was in Cedar Rapids?
Beranek:No, it was in Cedar Falls.
Lang:Cedar Falls. And she was a school teacher there?
Beranek:She was a school teacher in the Solon public schools. I think she enjoyed it very much. She wanted me to go to college, so I was talking about going to college when I was ten years old. She had thoroughly instilled the idea in me.
Lang:I asked about influences in your early life that led you toward your ultimate career.
Beranek:Then I guess that college would be the next influence. There was no one in high school who did more than instruct me. In college there was a professor of math who was an exceptional teacher. His name was Elmer Moots, and the students all liked him. A number of his students went to graduate schools and became professors of mathematics in big universities around the country. And so when this tire story was over and I had received a Harvard fellowship for that fall, he wrote to one of his former students who was the wife of a professor at Tufts University named John Barnes. Moots said that I was going east to Harvard and would she be kind to me, or something. So I wrote her a letter and said "Professor Moots has told me he's written you ..." I let her know when I would arrive. I got a letter back from her right away saying "We'll meet you at the train." So Moots was an influence on me, and the Barnes helped me get acquainted with this area while I went to graduate school. On arriving at Harvard I had to go out and look for a room to live in. There were rooming houses all around Harvard. My first rooming house was on Irving St. in Cambridge. I stayed there for one year. Each year I lived in a different house, and ended up my last graduate year rooming with Robert Wallace in Harvard's Conant Hall. Wallace was later to work quite closely with me and eventually with Bell Labs. He and I were both interested in physics and communications.
Lang:Was he also studying for the same degree at the same school?
Beranek:At Harvard. Oh, one other thing helped me get started in my eventual work — the field of acoustics. Let's start with radio. I came east to Harvard really to go into radio, but there were two distractions. One started back at Cornell in Iowa. The head of the speech department decided that it would be a good idea to record the voices of his students at the beginning of the year before they took a course in speech, and then record their voices at the end of the year.
Lang:To see how much they'd progressed in speech making.
Beranek:— That was the idea but, most of them didn't progress. In any event, the department bought a recording machine. This recording machine was interesting because it had a diamond needle on it and it embossed grooves on an aluminum disk. It looked like a phonograph record but it was aluminum, and I have some of them here. To play them back, you had to have a fibre needle, because you couldn't use a steel needle on an aluminum record. with a fibre needle they sounded pretty good. So I recorded students.
Lang:You changed the needle on each playback of a disk?
Beranek:Sometimes half way through.
Lang:Half way through?
Beranek:They blurred out. I had a little trimmer that I could use to sharpen them.
Beranek:The result was that I had to build a recording studio. From that experience, I learned a little about acoustics. Handmade acoustics, you see. When I came to Harvard, my courses were initially in electronics. But one of the professors was Professor F. B. Hunt who although he had done most of his work in electronics, he had recently been doing research in room acoustics. He needed an assistant. On application, the college decided they would give him money to hire an assistant.
Lang:Now, would he have been in the physics department?
Beranek:He was in a halfway station called the Cruft laboratory. It was really applied physics. My degree when I got one was called "in the field of communication physics". Communications at Harvard was a branch of physics, but it had a separate course structure, one did not take nuclear physics. So you weren't a physicist in that sense.
Lang:But it was still part of the physics department?
Beranek:That's right. Now, let's see. In my first year of graduate study, Professor Hunt was watching students, because he had this money coming in for the next year. I received very good grades in my first year.
Lang:This is the first year in graduate school?
Beranek:Yes. I got all A's I think, Hunt was looking for an assistant for the next year. And so between the two years, he asked me to work for him that summer. I said, "What do you want me to do?" He said, "I want now to turn my efforts into the area of recording. I think recording is going to change and improve, and I want to become involved in research in that field." It turns out it wasn't recording as such, it was playback he got interested in. Phonograph pickups of that day weighed so much that the pressure put on the record wore them rapidly. Running through his mind was, "Why don't I invent a pickup that would put a gram on the record instead of an ounce?" Some phonograph pick-ups weighed half a pound! In any event, I became his assistant. So what were we going to do? The first thing he asked me to build was a power amplifier. There were no good power amplifiers on the market. He said, "I think we must have a power amplifier with something like 20 watts output. Then we will design a folded horn loudspeaker." He said there was some literature on folded horns, "But I think we can design a better one, knowing what we do now." He bought two moving coil, 12-inch loudspeakers from the Jensen Company, the principal loud speaker maker other than Western Electric. He did the design and I built a low frequency, folded horn unit with an upper frequency limit of about 300 Hertz. My next job was to test it. Then I built the power amplifier. The loudspeaker was big, with a radiating area on the order of, oh, I would say 12 square feet. It had very good bass. There were reasonably good intermediate range speakers available and he chose Western Electric speakers for that range. As yet there were no tweeters, so we were limited by what you could get out of a 7-inch diameter midrange speaker. Hunts contribution to sound reproduction was major. He invented the first lightweight pickup. It made the cover of Electronics magazine. It was a moving coil in a magnetic field, and it was quite good. I was his constant assistant, running between tests and the "watchmaker" machinist with his next design.
Lang:This would have been about 1939, 1940, somewhere in there?
Beranek:Let's see, I got my master's after one year, June 1937. It was very easy to earn a master's degree at Harvard. I worked half time for him in '37-'38 and '38-'39. Because of his favorable recommendation, I received, without applying for it, one of the top university traveling fellowships for my last year of graduate school, '39-'40. In June 1940 I received my doctor's degree. During those two years I worked half time for him and took courses the other half time. The phonograph pickup should have made him rich. The trouble was he couldn't get a basic patent on generating an electric current by wiggling a conductor in a magnetic field. He could only patent structure. The Fairchild Corporation decided they could make a small moving coil in magnetic field, which would avoid the structure that he was patenting. They came out with the first lightweight pickups that were really commercially successful, and he got nothing out of his pioneering work. And it all came to the front cover picture on Electronics magazines. That's one of the ironies of life. Hunt tried desperately to sell the thing to juke box manufacturers. They really saw no need for it. They were doing fine selling their heavy pick-ups. The existence of a lightweight pickup changed the recording industry. It led to the 33 1/3 record that came later, because a lightweight pickup was essential for that.
Lang:But I should point out that he did leave enough to endow the Acoustical Society of America with a considerable amount of money from his estate, the Acoustical Society lost a good fraction of it in arbitrage, so if he had gotten a more generous allocation of the funds from this patent, maybe it would have all gone into arbitrage, I don't know.
Beranek:I don't know. That's hard to say. Well, in any event, those two years working for him were very good, because I learned a little bit about how things get invented, what kind of a mentality is needed and, the difficulties of selling a patent. You've really got to start your own company and sell the product yourself. It's very difficult to invent something and license it.
Beranek:The solo inventor. You generally can't sell the idea, even with a patent. Occasionally it happens, I admit. But all the people I know who have tried to make any money on their patents have not done so. Those four years in graduate school were wonderful. The freedom we had at Harvard to talk with the senior faculty — in fact, I was working with one for two of the years. Harvard gave me any amount of money I wanted and labor in the shops, for my research work. They never gave me a budget. When I asked, "How much can I spend?," the answer was, "We don't care." Of course the fact is that in those days there was not much expensive equipment around. And that led to my thesis topic, which was "A Different Way of Measuring Acoustic Impedance." I did some of the first precise measurements on the acoustic impedance of acoustical materials. I published "Precision Measurement of Acoustic Impedance" in July 1940. This paper induced Professor P. M. Morse at MIT to write a theoretical paper on sound absorption in acoustical materials, using my data as verification of his theory. This was my connection with Morse, because, if you read his paper, he starts off praising me for the basic data that I got.
Lang:One thing that came out on the earlier tapes, Leo, that pertains to this is that — which was not discussed on the earlier tapes — at this same time, which would have been in the late thirties and early forties, there was a team in the Netherlands, Zwicker and Kosten, who were working in this same area. I know you know all about their work. I wonder if there was any collaboration or communication with that group, or did you even know that it was going on, because much of the work was done by Zwicker and Kosten during World War II, when of course the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans and there were no communications then, but I wonder if you had any inkling that there was this team in the Netherlands working in this same general area?
Beranek:There was not any inkling. In fact, we had no knowledge of what was going on in continental Europe. When World War II was over, and — I'm trying to think of the year now — it must have been in 1946, the predecessor of the National Science Foundation, in the US Navy, what did they call it? It was the Research division of the Navy.
Lang:ONR, Office of Naval Research.
Beranek:ONR, Office of Naval Research, right. They persisted until the National Science Foundation was set up. ONR decided, right after the war, that they would send me to Europe to study the major acoustics laboratories, to find out what had gone on in World War II. So that was the first time that I'd gone, you mentioned Kosten, to see the Dutch facilities, and Kosten was my contact in Delft.
Lang:This would have been 1946?
Beranek:No, it was July 1, '48 that I sailed to Europe.
Lang:July 1, 1948. This was the time that you went to the Netherlands for the first time?
Lang:Because this is when you took me to the La Tour D'Argent in Paris.
Beranek:That was my first trip.
Lang:And that was the famous story that I think we can come to later perhaps.
Beranek:So my first trip to Europe was to study all of the research done in acoustics, and I came back full of information on, I think, the work in half a dozen countries.
Lang:This had nothing to do with Operation Paperclip?
Lang:You know what Paperclip was?
Beranek:Well, I've only heard about it.
Lang:Paperclip was basically an effort to explore what the Germans had been doing.
Beranek:I went to Berlin also.
Beranek:No, they sent other people to investigate underwater acoustics.
Beranek:And probably earlier, because underwater sound was more important than airborne acoustics.
Lang:So this would have been the summer of '48 that you made this first trip, by ship obviously since there were no planes flying the Atlantic at that time, except military. Or you went on a military plane?
Beranek:I went on lots of military flights later. This was my first trip. Certainly on this trip I met you in Paris.
Lang:Well, I'm sure that was '48, Leo. I can remember, I can almost recollect the date. It was much appreciated, that nice visit. When the recorder stops here, I wish to go on to another basic subject area. What I would like to do next, if we could, Leo, is to look at your many, many contributions to society, and I use society with a lower case "s" here, because I mean both to the professional world and to specific Societies with capital "S's" both in acoustics, electronics, communications, physics, and in society in the broader sense, the non-technical world. So I thought what I would do is to pursue the interview starting first with the scientific societies, and talk about your many contributions in those areas, and then finish up today if we could talking about the broadcasting world and the symphony world and the university world. Does that make sense?
Beranek:That's fine. How shall we start?
Lang:Let me, if I could, and you may want to talk about something else first, but it seems to me that one of your main contributions in this area was in the late forties, to recognize that the field of audio, that obviously had played a very major role in your whole career up to this point, needed some professional focus. And with a couple of others, you were the guiding light on the creation within the IEEE, which was then known as the Institute of Radio Engineers, the IRE, the Professional Group on Audio, which was Group Number 1. Could you tell me a little bit about how you came to organize the field of audio within the IRE?
Beranek:Yes, I'll tell to the best of my memory. That's a long time ago. My impression is that the first person that I got acquainted with in the IRE who was interested in audio, was Ollie Angevine. He was quite active in affairs of the IRE. We talked about starting a professional group, and he was quite active in this. I think probably he did more of the talking with the IRE directors than I did. Then as a result of a lot of discussions the time came to form the Professional Group on Audio. Senior in the IRE was an engineer named Baker.
Lang:Not Bill Baker?
Beranek:Not the Baker from Bell Labs, but another Baker. I think he was with GE or maybe RCA. He was a prominent force in starting the professional group, although he was not in the field.
Lang:You were mentioning that the Professional Group on Audio with the IRE was founded in 1950.
Beranek:That's correct. And the idea was that the radio engineer ought to know the audio end of the spectrum better. There was no part of their organization that seemed to be taking an interest in it. We felt that we ought to have our own publication, or at least a newsletter, and that this should talk about audio things, and we should try and encourage the engineers to really understand and know audio better. Now, the Acoustical Society of America was active, but there were not many of the IRE members who were members of the Acoustical Society. And they were not reading the acoustical journals. And we thought somehow we could stir up more understanding of the audio field, that would maybe lead to higher quality audio products, and this would be all to the good. Well, we then talked with Baker at some length, and finally Baker said, "Well, let's go ahead and set up a Professional Group on Audio. It can be our experiment." So I was made the first chairman of it. Of course later they made these things more independent and had a president. But I was the first chairman, and I can remember some of the first meetings, where we had attendance of say 100 or so. We'd have some technical papers. And we put out a newsletter with these technical papers in it. There was no early intention to produce a magazine. We didn't have the money for it. The IRE was not about to put us in the publishing business. And the publishing of audio things didn't come until the formation of the Audio Engineering Society, which came later with Lebel.
Lang:C. J. Lebel?
Beranek:He decided the field needed a publication, and set up the Audio Engineering Society, with considerable opposition from the Acoustical Society.
Lang:What year would the Audio Engineering Society have been formed?
Beranek:Well, it would have been after this, a couple of years.
Beranek:Yes, I think 1952.
Lang:Were you involved at all in the formation of the Audio Engineering Society?
Beranek:No, it was such a political thing. C. J. Lebel had a personality that did not jibe well with Wallace Waterfall, who was the secretary of the Acoustical society. And he and Lebel could hardly stand being in the same room together. The result was that the Acoustical Society really rejected the idea of taking on the Audio Engineering society as a constituent society, even though I remember proposing this possibility to the council, and they said, no.
Lang:To the council of the Acoustical Society?
Beranek:Yes. They said, no, they thought the Audio Engineering Society under C. J. Lebel was going to be too much of a home hobbyist kind of thing, and it would not be in the tradition of a branch of the American Institute of Physics.
Beranek:Further, they just felt it wasn't really dignified enough to bother with.
Lang:Were you on the council of the Acoustical Society?
Beranek:In regard to the Acoustical Society of America, I was on the council 1944-47, vice president from '49 to '50, and president elect from '53 to '54. So I was really active as either a vice president or was just influential in those periods. Anyhow, I was quite interested in this development. Lebel came to me to talk about it because of my association with the IEEE, or IRE as it was called. Then later they made me an honorary member. I didn't even join the Audio Engineering Society, I think.
Lang:Well, they ultimately gave you the Gold Medal of the Audio Engineering Society.
Beranek:That's right, after I served as its President.
Lang:So the Acoustical Society did not participate in the Formation?
Beranek:Not at all. In fact, if anything they would have suppressed it, if they could have.
Lang:Let's go to the next subject then, within the Acoustical Society. I think that one major leadership role that you played in the early fifties, and we'll get the dates straightened out, is the creation of Noise Control Magazine of the Acoustical Society of America. I know that you and Lew Goodfriend were deeply involved in that. Perhaps you could go over that. I think it's not covered to any great extent here, but I think it is a very important aspect of the evolution of Noise Control Magazine as a professional discipline.
Beranek:Well, noise, of course, was playing an important part in the acoustician's life. I would like to spend just a minute on my own connection with this. In World War II, there was great difficulty in communicating internally among occupants of a bomber. Those involved were not only the in cockpit, but there had to be communication with the radio man, the tail gunner and sometimes the belly gunner. This had to be done by voice, by interphones. Everybody was wearing oxygen masks. Nothing was pressurized in those days. They were unable to communicate when they got up to high altitudes. At the altitude limit of the B-17, there was zero voice communication. This was very serious. Also the pilots who, in 1940, were starting to fly B-17, bombing missions over Europe came back greatly fatigued. So the first war project after the Radiation Lab at MIT, was called Sound Control in Military Vehicles. It was set up by the National Defense Research Committee. This was in the fall of 1940 right after I got my doctorate. There is an interesting by-story, I don't know if I covered it in the other tape or not, about how I got to be director of this laboratory.
Lang:I think that's covered in the other one, yes.
Beranek:Well, anyhow, because of the scrap between Professor Morse and Professor Hunt over who should manage it, Dr. Karl Compton, who was head of the NDRC, said, "Let Beranek do it." This turned out to be an important project, because we then changed all of the microphones and all the ear phones. We had new oxygen masks designed. We got new helmets, with cushions in them to eliminate noise or cut it way down. All these changes were done with more speed than anything else that happened in World War II, in the equipment line, and we were able to bring satisfactory voice communication into the bombers. Later, our investigations extended to communication in tanks and communication on ships. After World War II the first pressurized planes came out of Boeing. And then the question was, how much noise can be permitted in a passenger airplane? So I worked out the SIL, the Speech Interference Level, as a criterion to use to measure or specify how much noise could be allowed and permit conversation in various locations. The airplane was the first place where the SIL, the Speech Interference Level concept was applied.
Lang:Was that in your acoustics measurement book that was published as a result of this work right after the war?
Beranek:No, this was first published as a paper in the TRANSACTIONS of the ASME in February, 1947.
Beranek:Yes. That was the first important publication on this subject, because that's where the airplane people read and the SIL was first directed towards airplanes. Wayne Rudmore (?) and I also had a paper the March 1947, "Noise Control Magazine in Airplanes," in the Journal of Acoustical Society of America. I published my basic paper on speech communication in the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers in September 1947. I had a paper on "Acoustics in Comfort and Safety," in JASA which was in July 1949, which was given as an invited paper as part of the twentieth anniversary of the Acoustical Society of America. But let's go back now. You were talking about societies.
Lang:Well, I'm talking about the creation of Noise Control Magazine, which was a publication of the Acoustical Society from the mid-fifties — perhaps 1955 to 1962, and I think you played a key role in it.
Beranek:Well, airplane and tank quieting was my entry into Noise Control Magazine. When the war was over, in February 1947, I went to MIT to become an associate professor, a tenured professor. Dick Bolt was approached through President Killian to consider whether he would like to be a consultant to the united Nations Permanent Headquarters. This I think was in early 1948. I was consulting then on the acoustics of movie theaters, including quieting them. I was also a consultant with the General Radio Company (now GENRAD). Of course I had all this experience during the war on quieting aircraft and tanks. I kept insisting in the Acoustical Society that we had to know more about the noise problem, and why didn't we take advantage of the fact that many members of the Acoustical Society were noise people. They dealt with practical problems of putting acoustical materials in buildings, of quieting cars and railway coaches and airplanes. I asked, "Why don't we publish more on this subject?" But the answer was, well, we can't get by the review committees because the papers are too practical. Then why don't we put out a separate magazine? So Wallace Waterfall, who practically controlled everything and did it very well, a very nice guy in the Acoustical Society, said, "Well, why don't you fellows start a magazine?" So Noise Control Magazine was started with money from the Acoustical Society, and with Lew Goodfriend as the first editor. I was provided the push to get it going, and Wallace Waterfall was very happy about doing this.
Lang:I can see this evolving through the Council of the Acoustical Society with your push behind it. Was there anybody else who was helping you, or was it largely antipathy of the researchers in the Acoustical Society really wondering whether this was important or not. I will come to the end of Noise Control Magazine. Was that what killed it?
Beranek:Well, I can't see that there was much central interest in noise in the Acoustical Society. The Acoustical Society has as members a lot of psychologists, as you know, a lot of physicists, and the research that was being done in acoustics was at a very high level. There wasn't even any research on concert halls at that time. The discussion that went on all the time was that what we were doing was publishing a magazine for people who don't belong to the Acoustical Society. That was the negative side of it. And we kept saying that the field needs to consider noise, and if we don't do it in a magazine of the Acoustical Society, it's got to appear somewhere, and who better can do it than acoustical people? That's why it got sanctioned. And then the argument at every meeting for the remainder of its life was, "Why are we doing this for non-acousticians? We're publishing it, but the subscriber list isn't our regular membership. Therefore it was a sort of foreign body. It all came to a head when Lew and his wife got divorced.
Lang:Lew was the editor, first editor?
Lang:And he was responsible for Noise Control Magazine during several years, wasn't he?
Beranek:Yes, several years. Then the trouble came when he and Betty divorced, and Betty was Wallace Waterfall's assistant. This made Wallace turn very negative against Lew. And then, another strange thing happened. This is really a strange story. Floyd Firestone was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
Beranek:Floyd Firestone, who's still living, a very old man, Floyd decided he no longer wanted to be the editor. It was a lot of hard work and he wanted to get back to his inventing. He was one of few inventors who made money out of his inventions. And so he said, "Leo, I want you to be the new editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America." Not only did he say that, but he sent me a lot of his material from his editorship, and was going to turn it over to me. This created great trauma, because Wallace now knew that if I got to be editor of the Acoustical Society Journal that I would certainly keep Noise Control Magazine Magazine going. He was already by then well turned against Noise Control Magazine. And Lew was still editor at that time. And I even wrote a document to the Council, because Wallace said, "I want a statement of your policies, if you're going to be the editor. Firestone has no right to give you that editorship. It's got to be voted by the council." So I wrote a document, somewhere I probably could find it if I worked hard enough, in which I said that my philosophy, if I were to become editor, would be to do certain things with the Journal, be sure that we kept the psychological constituents in the Journal, and I wanted to keep Noise Control Magazine active, and I want to encourage Lou to do a better job on it. Well, Wallace didn't want this at all.
Lang:By this time he was turned against Noise Control Magazine largely because of the interpersonal relationships between the Goodfriends?
Beranek:Well, it was an important factor, but that was only one factor. He was also uncomfortable with the magazine because it was serving an outside constituency. Then came the day to decide whether I was to be the editor or not, and he asked me to come down to the Acoustical meeting in New York at which they were going to vote on whether I was going to be editor. And he said, "You stay in your room, and when the vote is over, you can join the meeting." So I stayed in my hotel room. He called me at their luncheon break and said, "They voted this morning to make Bruce Lindsay the editor." And when I quizzed some of the other members of the council, they said there was no discussion on the subject. Wallace moved that since Firestone wanted to quit that Bruce Lindsay should be the editor. He never told them that I was staying in a room waiting to be told whether I would be the editor. It was a very strange thing. Now, I believe that is primarily why Firestone quit going to the Acoustical meetings. He didn't attend another Acoustical meeting until their big anniversary, was it at years?
Lang:50 years in '79.
Beranek:Here in Cambridge. That's the first one he went to. He was furious. Now, there was one other factor that went into his resignation. While I was president, he published a picture of me drinking a bottle of beer at a picnic and he published a poem in JASA which he had written that had the word "nigger" in it because it rhymed with "jigger". These were a combination of things that happened.
Lang:Were you president of the society when that event took place?
Beranek:Yes, I was.
Lang:So what year would that have been?
Beranek:In the fall of 1954 in Austin, Texas.
Lang:Now, Lindsay would have taken over as the editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America in what year roughly?
Beranek:Oh, I would say probably '55.
Lang:Because I remember historically that I was riding the train back from the Ann Arbor meeting of the Acoustical Society and I met Bruce Lindsay on the platform and I believe it was 1962, and he said to me, "Bill, we killed Noise Control Magazine today." And I said, "Why did you do that?" And he said, "Because it has no interest in the Society and the Council felt that it should go." So I'm very interested personally and professionally in that seven year period that Noise Control Magazine existed, and I think that you have done an excellent job of summarizing it.
Beranek:Well, let's just say that when Wallace's feelings were strong enough on this, he also made Lindsay the editor of the Noise Control Magazine, who had no interest in Noise Control Magazine. So this was really just a very curious thing in the politics of the Acoustical Society. These things happen, you know. I have never held this against anybody.
Lang:This did have a profound influence ultimately on the formation of INCF which I'd like to come to, but basically there was a hiatus here of several years when, after the Acoustical Society killed Noise Control Magazine, of an appropriate vehicle for the publication of noise papers.
Lang:So I'm looking, Leo, at your list of keys societies to which you have contributed. We've covered the IRE and its Professional Group on Audio and we've covered the Audio Engineering Society and its initial beginnings and we've covered your presidency of the Acoustical Society. Is there anything else with regard to those three societies that I may have missed?
Beranek:Well, I was, of course, always sort of a trouble maker, but the only thing we may have missed was the beginning of my presidency.
Lang:In the Acoustical Society?
Lang:The beginning of your presidency would have been in '54, and you were president elect in '53.
Beranek:In my president elect year, '53-'54 year, I decided that we were running a great risk of losing the psychoacousticians from the society. I believed the reason we were running the risk of losing them was that they just felt that they couldn't be elected to office, they just didn't have any standing relative to the physicists, although they liked publishing there. They were threatening to go off and form their own society where they would have some power. So I called an emergency meeting, and this upset Wallace a great deal because he didn't think there was any emergency. And I wasn't president yet, I was president-elect and didn't have all that much right to be calling an emergency meeting. And at this meeting, my whole discussion was along the lines of how to make the Acoustical Society more interesting, how to deal with these various groups, and particularly the psychoacoustic group. This special meeting which was held as part of the regular meeting, a half day event. We had speeches by people like Ira Hirsh and Walter Rosenblith and others who were interested in psychoacoustics. They spoke about what they wanted and what the society had to do to shape up. And we came to some conclusions. I think some of this can probably be found written up in the Acoustical Journal as part of the meeting. But what happened after that was, if you look at the growth of membership in the Acoustical Society, it grew at one rate almost constantly until I was president, and then took a sharp slope upward. And that resulted from the year before I was president, getting things shaped up. I think this led to these, what do you call them, separate councils within the Acoustical Society.
Beranek:Technical committees inside the Acoustical Society. I can't say exactly when those were formally started.
Beranek:My emergency meeting led to that, and that would have been, again getting back to this period, would have been after 1954. Those got set up. So I would say that an important contribution I made was to keep the society together.
Lang:Parenthetically I would like to note that I got a call last week from Dan Martin, who is the current editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, on which I have the honor to serve as the chairman of its publications policy committee, and he noted to me that the psychologists and physiologists are again making noises about splitting off and starting their own thing. So this has been going on for the last 40 years at least.
Beranek:That's interesting. It's an interesting sidelight.
Lang:Leo, we have covered the professional organizations, the three that I mentioned, the Audio Engineering Society, the Acoustical Society and the Professional Group on Audio of the IRE. I would like to spend a little time on the Institute of Noise Control Magazine Engineering, if I could, and just ask you a couple of questions. If 1962 is the correct date on which Noise Control Magazine Magazine was killed by the Acoustical Society, which was its publisher, could you talk a little bit about the evolution of the noise field from a professional standpoint, from 1962 to the passage of the Noise Control Magazine Act of 1972, a ten year period which I think was a fascinating period of development in various aspects of what we now call Noise Control Magazine engineering.
Beranek:Well, part of this had to be related to the jet age. We didn't have really big noise until jet engines came into use. And along about 1952, we started being concerned with noise from jet engines. I presented a paper that was published in November of 1952, which was given either in the previous spring called "Unsolved Military Noise Problems." And this for the first time in the Acoustical Journal touched on the seriousness of the noise problems related to jet engines. I said it was an unsolved problem and it was a military problem because only they were flying jet planes. And my consulting company, Bolt, Beranek and Newman, took a step function growth with the advent of the commercial jet engines.
Beranek:GE and Pratt and Whitney were involved. For the first time we had intense noise affecting neighborhoods, not merely at the airports. And both of these companies and Westinghouse had manufacturing facilities that were located near residential areas. They were starting to test jet engines outdoors or in inadequate test cells which created great consternation in the neighborhoods. Anti-company groups were formed. Bolt, Beranek and Newman as a company went into this problem. I was leading the effort, because Dick Bolt was either at the National Science Foundation or was still at MIT in that period. Bob Newman, being an architect/geophysicist, was dealing with auditorium and building acoustics and was not concerned with outdoor noise. The noise area was my field. First, we had to worry about how strong the noise source was. Then what did you have to develop as criteria? Well, we didn't really know at first what criteria, but we did provide some new kinds of acoustical materials. We invented something called Soundstream at Bolt, Beranek and Newman, which was a kind of a snakey material where the air had to pass through snakey ducts. They weren't straight through ducts, they were snakey ducts. And this meant you got low frequency absorption if you did it right, and you'd also get high frequency absorption because you couldn't see through it. Now, this type of treatment got us to be known about 1950. It was early 1950 when we started getting involved in the jet engine work, and it was building up from then on. In early 1950 came the big noise from the supersonic wind tunnel at NACA-Cleveland. The published paper on the work didn't come out until 1955. I was called on the telephone by the Director of the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland and asked to bring some people out to study a severe noise problem. Sam LaBate, Jordan Baruch and I went out. We brought along some measuring equipment, because the Director said a great emergency had arisen at their supersonic wind tunnel. In it they would put the engines and burn them in high speed airflow just as thought they were in flight. We found an enormous noise problem. They had run the tunnel with engine only once. It scared people for miles all over one side of Cleveland. The Director said it had to be cured fast or the facility was dead. And we took on this rush job. It was less than a one year program from the time we took it on, until they had built the largest muffler in the world. It was really quiet when we got through.
Lang:This I think is very well documented on the other tapes.
Beranek:Yes. But this ended up with my being greatly interested in seeing that noise was talked about and published somewhere.
Lang:Let's go back. There was a ten year period between 1962 when Noise Control Magazine was killed, and the Noise Control Magazine Act of 1972 which was passed by the Congress, the last piece of legislation before we went into Watergate.
Beranek:OK. In that intermediate period I was working on the field of quieting all kinds of things. You will find my papers that came out steadily starting in 1955. The "Caravel Noise-inflight" tests were in '57. The commercial jet aircraft age started in 1958. The first flights in the US were out of J.F. Kennedy Airport, or "Idlewild" as it was called then. Also we were working on quieting transport helicopters about which a papers came out in 1959. Another paper was "Reaction of People to Exterior Aircraft Noise" in Noise Control Magazine in '59. You can see my life was heavily bound up with the whole noise situation. Well, the noise was so troubling to neighborhoods, that many law suits were started against air conditioning manufacturers and against apartment houses with air conditioning units that were bothering neighbors nearby. Highway noise was growing because of the enormous increase in the number of cars. Airplanes now were flying with jet engines and creating noise in the neighborhoods. And it wasn't just the test cells now, there was now flying starting in 1958. And then you had this spectacle of the Acoustical society dropping Noise Control Magazine. with all this activity, I'd started summer courses on Noise Control Magazine at MIT in 1953. They were heavily attended at first. Soon other universities in the country started giving competing courses. All this time you were active in noise, of course, at IBM, and you were interested in seeing standards on noise and its measurement developed. You called me on the phone and said you wanted to come and have a meeting with me. We talked in my living room in Winchester, Massachusetts. That meeting stemmed from plans you'd already had to hold some kind of a noise workshop. You thought maybe the workshop could be the impetus for starting a society with its own publication. It was your approach to me, that got me then interested in the starting of the Institute of Noise Control Magazine Engineering and the journal Noise Control Engineering. There are things that you can fill in better than I can, but I know that we had the living room meeting. We then laid out a plan.
Lang:That would have been about 1970.
Beranek:About 1970. It was to hold a discussion conference at the Arden House in New York state, on the Harriman estate. We would invite maybe a hundred people to it, and would talk about the possibility of forming some kind of a Noise Control Magazine society, and about having associated with it a publication. Right from the beginning we talked publication, because a society doesn't mean much without a publication. We also talked about, how we could do this and not get into the mess that C. J. Lebel got into, where we would become alienated from the Acoustical Society. Right from the very beginning, you and I planned how we were going to approach Wallace Waterfall, how we would present to him what we wanted to do, and how we would try to get across to him the fact that the Acoustical Society was not the best place to have the publication because they had given up on Noise Control Magazine. The reason being that they were serving a different constituency, and they didn't see why they should put their money, their efforts and their time into sponsoring something that was not for their constituency. We said that we believed we could run a society that would deal with this constituency that needed to be served, and we could put out a publication, and we would even go so far as to say that our members couldn't belong to our society unless they were also members of the Acoustical Society. We absolutely would not hurt them in any way. I think our story had the effect of getting his approval. We were not in any way trying to draw people out of the Acoustical Society. If anything we were going to add to its membership, because if anyone was going to be a member of our Institute of Noise Control Magazine Engineering, he/she had to have Acoustical Society membership too. Well, the result was that we got off to a good meeting. A little bit of debate came up over the coming year about our name, as you remember, and James Botsford was calling something that he had organized the Institute of Noise Control Magazine Engineering.
Lang:He called his the Institute on Noise Control Magazine Engineering, ours of course was the Institute of Noise Control Magazine Engineering(INCE).
Beranek:When we asked him why he did this, he said that he thought from the discussions at Arden House that we were going to call it Noise and Vibration Control Engineering, and he had left the "Vibration" out, therefore he had an independent name. Well, it is true that we had offered the two as possibilities, and the consensus of the meeting even by a show of hands was to leave the Vibration off, as I remember. He forgot that. And so we had that difficulty to get over. In the second year of INCE, we started the publication of the Journal. This was traumatic also, because we tried to get start up monies from the National Science Foundation. The contract was fully approved, but unsigned. Our friend Jack Mowry who was putting out a magazine called-
Lang:Sound and Vibration.
Beranek:Sound and Vibration, abbreviated S/V, and he felt that we were going to hurt his publication in some way. The result was, killed the contract in short order by claiming that the NSF was going to fund competition with somebody who was really doing the job already, and it was not needed, and they (NSF) were entering into an area where the rules of their formation were being violated. So we lost that contract. But we decided to go ahead anyway and we would do it on the basis of membership dues. We hired an editor, and he put the first issue out. And then he found that his philosophy and ours were so far apart that we had to dismiss him. Our second editor was —
Beranek:Malcolm Crocker, and he has remained the editor (I guess editor-in-chief now) of Noise Control Magazine Engineering to this day.
Lang:The name is now Noise Control Magazine Engineering Journal.
Beranek:This journal has been very successful, although there have been times when we have not had the volume of papers being submitted that we'd like, because it's harder to get practicing engineers to write up their work than it is to get university professors publish.
Lang:Before we leave this subject, Leo, could you describe the climate and interests on the national scene, towards enacting legislation, in the period of 1971, 1972, the climax of which coincided with our first International Conference on Noise Control Engineering, the very first one at the Shoreham Motel in Washington in October of 1972.
Beranek:I can't remember how we got started working with the Senate of the United States.
Lang:I think, Leo, you called me one day and said that Senator Tunney's assistant, Jane Frank, was very interested in having some expert advice and guidance on the legislation which ultimately became the Tunney-Muskie Bill in the Senate. There was another pair of Congressmen who had comparable legislation in the House. And they all needed some expert advice. You asked me to accompany you to Washington, which I did, and I know that you had made many trips down there before, in order to support the technical side of the legislative thrust.
Beranek:Well, I can't remember exactly how we got connected in with Jane Frank, whether she called me or whether I had some mutual friend who put us together, but somehow she and we got in the picture. She was in Senator Tunney's office in California?
Beranek:At that time already, Senator Tunney had introduced a bill, and this bill was to control noise everywhere. He was thinking of it as controlling automobile noise, noise from outdoor machinery of all kinds, as well as aircraft. And the bill that was being proposed was quite comprehensive, and was receiving great objections from the airplane industry. NOw, by some means, they were able to get a competing bill also in the Senate going, under another committee, and it never was quite clear to me how you could have two bills moving in the Senate at the same time, except that I suspect that Tip O'Neill, who was Speaker of the House. No, we are talking about the Senate, so it was the Rules Committee.
Lang:The Rules Committee in the Senate.
Beranek:Why this was allowed to go on, I can't understand, except they probably felt the forces were too big on both sides to kill one of the committees. So we got in the picture, and we spent time with Jane Frank, as you remember, some very exciting times. We planned a big "Noise Control Magazine legislation season" at the spring meeting of INCE in Washington. We got one of the staff from the White House, who formerly had been chairman of the DOT Supersonic Noise Committee (the supersonic plane had already been killed by then) to come over and give one of the big speeches.
Lang:I think his name was MacGruder.
Beranek:That's right, not the MacGruder that got into Watergate, but another MacGruder.
Lang:Another MacGruder who died shortly thereafter of heart failure at a rather early age.
Beranek:That's right. I had known him because I had been chairman of the supersonic noise committee and he was in DOT assigned to the supersonic airplane project. He had always felt obligated to me for having worked so hard and having got Boeing to really redesign their whole muffler system to bring forth a logical argument to the Congress that noise was no longer the issue. The supersonic airplane was eventually killed not for noise reasons but for economic reasons. They said it was going to cost too much to operate and the price of fuel went up even more afterwards, which proved that that was a wise decision.
Lang:It ain't dead yet.
Beranek:Well, of course there's nothing wrong with the concept. It was mainly economics and in fact, even today, you could not fly it over land with the boom going. You'd have to fly it at low speed. That also affects its economy negatively.
Lang:Interestingly enough, British Airways, BA is now making money on the Concord.
Beranek:Oh, really? Well, fuel is cheaper now.
Lang:That's right, exactly.
Beranek:In any event, we then had this big meeting, at which he spoke at noon, and at the same time, the Noise Control Magazine Act of 1972 was cooking over in Congress, and in fact, wasn't this during the INCE meeting that we had in '72?
Lang:Yes, it was the middle of October, 1972.
Beranek:I thought the Noise Control Magazine Act of '72 was passed at the end of —
Beranek:OK, so Congressional action was coming to a climax then. I didn't realize it was so close.
Lang:And we had 1400 people at Inter-Noise 72. We've never had that large number again at subsequent meeting.
Beranek:As we just said, the INCE convention was in Washington. The bills from the two committees were in and there was no sign that there could be a friendly compromise. At 11:30 just before the dinner at which MacGruder was to speak, we took him — I think you, Ken Eldred and I took him in a back room and gave him all the facts. And I said, "Now, if this bill comes through in one form or the other we hope you'll be able to get the President to sign it." And MacGruder said, "Give me a little time." He went to the telephone, while he was with us, talked to the White House, and came back and said, "The President will sign the bill." Now, meantime, these dates were very close, Congress was coming to an end. Two bills were there. What was the solution to be? Tunney somehow managed a trick, which was to take our bill and put the number of the other bill on it, and all the Congressmen had by then memorized the number on the bill. As a result, the House and Senate in the last hour of the session passed the Noise Control Magazine Act of 1972. They passed the act they didn't think they were passing, the bill that was less favorable to the airplane companies than the one that got passed.
Lang:The interesting thing is that that was the last bill that President Nixon signed before the country went into the trauma of Watergate. It was months, it must have been six, maybe a year, before another bill was signed by a President of the united states. So that was the last bill.
Beranek:That's a detail I hadn't known, but I do remember that Jane Frank came to one of our later meetings at Arden House, and said, "I never understood why the President signed this bill," and at that meeting we told her how it came about, namely that it was MacGruder who did it. So we've had our moments of fun and glory, even though the Noise Control Magazine Act of '72 under Reagan went down the drain with a lot of other things.
Lang:Well, I think that your role in this was vital to getting noise recognized as a professional discipline in the early 1970s. I think that's very, very important. Leo, what I'd like to do now is to shift, still within the framework of science and technology, move to a somewhat larger scene. I'd like to talk about your involvement in the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. These are more than just acoustics, more than just Noise Control Magazine, but very important to our national scene.
Beranek:I'd like to talk first then about the National Academy of Engineering. That was one of the most interesting things that I have done, other than my own research and book publishing. In 1966, the National Academy of Engineering elected their first "elected" members. Prior to that, in December 1964 it had been established by a group of 25 founders who were not elected. They got together, decided on the need for the National Academy of Engineering, and worked it out with the National Academy of Sciences. They are sort of a parallel but not subservient branch. In this way, the NAE really was coming in under the charter that Abraham Lincoln had given the National Academy of Sciences, but was operating as a parallel society. So I was made one of the first members of the National Academy of Engineering. I always felt that my sponsor on this, I have no way of knowing, was Eric Walker, who was one of the original 25 and was the president of Pennsylvania State University at that time. The NAE was looking around for broad representation — the first group they brought in came from different branches of engineering, and Walker, who was a national authority in underwater sound, probably thought that I was probably the best representative of engineering in the area of classical acoustics. I found the NAE to be really great fun. They set up a half-dozen operating committees, or sometimes they called them boards, in different areas. There was the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. There was the Marine Board. And there were some others, building construction and so on. They asked me almost right away if I would be on the membership committee to select new members. For three years I was on the earliest membership committee except the one that elected me. And I saw how it goes in this world, of trying to select the best people as members, how it's a combination of being well known through either magazines or national press, plus being well known in your own profession through your published papers, plus a little luck, you get to be elected. It's not entirely scientific, it's not political, but it's a combination of everything that results in election. And we also found that California for the first time came in very strong into the field of engineering nationally, that they had sort of been always overshadowed by MIT, and in the Academy of Engineering they purposely said, "We're not going to let MIT dominate this." So our first membership decisions were always slanted against MIT. So we brought California in.
Beranek:Well, Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley and UCLA were all in it. Then, they formed the committee on Public Engineering Policy, and the Marine Board, the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, all in 1966, and they asked me to be a member of all of them. It didn't take that much time. I never felt I was over-burdened. But in all three, I felt I made important contributions. In the Committee on Engineering Policy, the principal thing that I got interested in was the subject of technology assessment. Chauncey Starr, who was one of those elected early, was an expert on "risk". He was very concerned about the implications of any engineering decision made by Congress, what its wider effect on the population would be. Therefore, he felt a technology assessment ought to be made of each new thing that the government supported. For example, if the government was going to support a nuclear power plant, it should study what that means-what does it mean to existing industry, what does it mean to the population, what's it going to mean internationally, and all these questions? So Starr and I went to Congressman Daddario and got him to be the sponsor in Congress of the Office of Technology Assessment. We put together a report, Chauncey Starr and the committee, which was under the Public Engineering Policy board, that was called "Technology Assessment and What It Means". I wrote the first technology assessment report ever made, it was in the noise field. It was an exercise that help start the Office of Technology Assessment, which today is considered a very good addition to the Congress. It's reputation is based on how it's been handled, I mean how we got it started. I always felt that Chauncey Starr and I together with Congressman Daddario, were the principal people behind it. The Marine Board? Well, we had our ups and downs on that. We put out a report on where we thought the government studies in the marine area ought to go in the future, and just about that time, all budgets for research into underwater sound and antisubmarine warfare were cut, and our report was never very powerful in getting anything done. It was a state of the art report at the time, and a suggestion by the Academy as to where we should go next. At first the work was exciting because it seemed as though we were on a hot subject, but that cooled at the end. The Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, I was on twice. Let's see, Nixon resigned in what year?
Lang:Nixon resigned in 1974.
Beranek:My two terms were 1966-71 and 1973-76. In 1973 we helped plan the space shuttle. In fact, the thing we were spending most of our time on was the Hubble Space Telescope.
Lang:Yes, the space observatory.
Beranek:During a meeting in 1974, the last one that we spent on the shuttle, we heard presentations by several people about what was good and what was bad and what should be done. By then I was president of the television station here in Boston, Channel 5, WCBV. That was the day that Nixon was making his mind up to resign, and of course rumors were going wild, and we couldn't get any facts in Washington, but my television station in Boston was getting facts about what was going on. So during that meeting I went out every hour and phoned Boston, to find out what was happening with Nixon across the street from us in Washington. It was obvious that he was going to resign, as the day went on. The last time I went out was roughly 2 o'clock in the afternoon when the people at the station said, "It's definite. He's going to give a speech tonight at which he's going to resign. It will be at 6 or 7 o'clock." So I came back in and said, "I think I've got important enough news that maybe you ought to hear it." I said, "Nixon has resigned the Presidency or will tonight in a speech at 7 or 8 o'clock." "This seems to be final now," and some other details I gave. Well, the fellow who was giving the talk about the space observatory stopped, he acted as though somebody had shot him with a gun. He had a pointer in his hand, which he banged it down on the table, saying, "Excuse me," and he walked out of the room. So we all wondered what's happening to him. He came back ten minutes later and he said, "Well, I'll continue with my talk, but that was more than I could take." So I don't know what was in his mind, what connection he had with Nixon, but he certainly went to pieces in front of us. My feeling about the National Academy of Engineering was that it was a good time to be there. It was the start of it. We had a good following in the Government right from the beginning, and we did make a difference.
Lang:And what you've done, Leo, you have also succeeded in bringing into the National Academy of Engineering a number of acousticians who I think are carrying on the work that you-
Beranek:I hope you will keep supplying new names. You have to work at this, you know, to get new members.
Lang:Could we move to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences?
Beranek:Well, I don't have as interesting a story on it. Let me start with the day that I was inducted into it, how things went. That was in 1952. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences at that time was largely a greater Boston activity. It was not national to any extent. It had an American membership of 1200 or so at that time. Today its membership is 2900, plus 500 foreign honorary members.
Lang:Is this the reason that, when the NAE started up, it was not to become an MIT-Harvard oriented society, but there were some counterbalancing forces in California, perhaps in reaction to the fact that the American Academy was largely a Boston operation in those days?
Beranek:I don't believe so. The American Academy was never considered any kind of competition for engineers. It was more of a high level publishing operation, you might say-all the top professors in the East then belonged to it. And only recently has there been a modest influx of engineers. Anyhow, the interesting thing is that because of my war work, which was with the laboratory at Harvard, because of the prominent position BBN had in the noise field, and because of the work BBN was doing then on the united Nations buildings, somehow I got elected to the Academy. Dick Bolt got elected at the same time. That's the only case in the history of the American Academy that we know that two people walked down shoulder to shoulder to receive their diplomas. We were brought down together purposely because they said, "These two new Fellows belong together." I served on committees off and on through the years, nothing very spectacular as far as results were concerned. We talked about what might be in next issues of Daedelus, our Journal. Then in 1987-88, I was made a member of their publications committee. They always thought of me in terms of publications because I had spoken often about how Daedelus had to evolve. It was beginning to look like a last century publication. Actually the first issue with significant change was just printed this month.
Lang:Is that right?
Beranek:Anyhow, my interest in Daedelus was being talked about, and it was being said, "Leo's got ideas on how to improve the Academy." Then, about a year ago, the nominating committee to select the new president for the Academy was looking for candidates. They asked me to be on the nominating committee. I worked rather hard on this, and we came up with some quite good names of people whom we thought would be good presidents. They selected a couple of those names and I believe the chairman asked at least one of them if they would serve. When the candidate found out how much work it would take, he declined to take the job. Meantime I went off to Hawaii on vacation with my wife. I had trouble with my back and had to take time off to let it heal. So Gabriella thought that if we went to Hawaii and took it easy for a month and did nothing but swim and let my back heal, it would be the best thing for me. While I was gone, they got their turn-down, and they decided to make me the candidate. When I got back from this trip, there was some kind of fencing around to find out what my plans were and did I have time to spend as much as I liked on the Academy and so on, without ever suggesting why they were asking all these funny questions. One day in December 1988 Jerry Wiesner asked me down to a meeting at MIT, at which they asked me how I would reorganize the electrical engineering department of MIT if I had a chance. It was obvious to me later that these questions weren't being asked for MIT, but to see if I had any ideas how an organization ought to be structured and so on. Next thing I know, I was called by Joe Orlen, who is the Executive Officer, who said that the chairman of the nominating committee wants to talk with me. He said, "I'm going to tell you, and I'm not supposed to do this, but I don't want you to go in there unprepared, is that he is probably going to ask you to be president." So I did have a week's notice to get my thinking straight, to know whether I wanted the job, and to think through whether I could do it. I went to this meeting, and he said that I knew the history of their looking for a president and they'd been unable to get the person(s) that I knew about. He said that the committee felt that because of my experience in other nonprofit organizations, the fact that I had time, which was the reason the other people didn't take the job, and that they felt that my ideas on how to run an organization like this, from all the probing they'd done, fit what they wanted. So he asked me to be a candidate. It turned out that nobody ran against me, so I was elected unanimously.
Lang:Excellent. Is this a job similar to the presidency of the National Academy of Engineering, which is essentially a full time job?
Beranek:It is, really, but I'm not being paid. It's a nonpaying job.
Beranek:I work 30 hours a week at the Academy.
Lang:My goodness. Are their headquarters here in Cambridge?
Beranek:Yes. So it's ten minute drive, less on Sunday.
Lang:But 30 hours a week, that's a lot of time.
Beranek:So I'd say that's my job. I fly a lot. I fly allover the country. The purpose of the Academy is partly honorary, and partly it is to get out position reports or educational reports that are designed to influence the way that the society moves, not only in the united States but in the world. It's a very prestigious organization.
Lang:I'm not at all familiar with the Academy. What areas do the position reports go into?
Beranek:Everything. The Academy of Arts and Sciences is broken down into four classes. One deals with the physical sciences and engineering, one with the biological sciences, one with the social sciences, one with the humanities. Each class is broken down in five sections so it cuts all across the department and schools that you find in a big university. Now, for some examples of reports that are issued the big one right now is on India. It's written almost entirely by Indian people, both those who have been nationalized in this country and nationals. The report covers all facets of how India operates today. It's designed to help our opinion makers in this country better understand that country.
Lang:I think that's a fantastic undertaking; have you done one on Japan?
Beranek:Japan is coming up.
Lang:Because it seems to me that the cultural gap is a great contributor to the present —
Beranek:— Japan is coming up, and it's being financed by the Suntor Foundation.
Lang:This is before they take over our liquor industry.
Beranek:Then the other typical reports are one on the future of opera, for example. The Journal is called Daedelus four issues a year. AIDS is a big issue, two issues, a big study, financed by the MacArthur Foundation.
Lang:You published the study on India as a special issue of Daedelus?
Lang:I see. OK.
Beranek:And Daedelus is always devoted to one subject.
Lang:I see. It's not a magazine?
Beranek:No. It's quarterly journal a publication of the society, but it's not a magazine in the sense that you have a lot of articles on different subjects.
Lang:I see. So basically it's a periodical that publishes nothing but special issues.
Lang:That's very interesting. Well, I feel that what we have done here, Leo, is to concentrate on the scientific and technological societies in which you have made great contributions. I wonder if, to wrap up our discussion this morning, I think it is now approaching the noon hour very quickly, perhaps we should just finish this side of this tape.
Beranek:And deal with the non-scientific.
Lang:That's what I was going to suggest that we might do. You have a very nice prioritization, which I have used here just now, on what you felt your contributions were to the professional societies dealing with science and technology, I feel we've covered that. I did not find in this material a prioritization of the non-scientific or non-technical societies.
Beranek:Let's go on into these quickly. The first organization that I got interested in, in a big way, was the Cambridge Society for Early Music. It was formed right after the war to bring early music before the people in concerts. The society book performances of musicians from the US and Europe.
Lang:You're talking about early music, 14th and 15 centuries?
Beranek:I'm talking about music through Bach, through Bach, stopping at Mozart. Sometimes Mozart is considered in that era, but certainly he's the last composer you'd consider in early music.
Beranek:Yes. Certainly Beethoven is not in that group.
Beranek:Pre-Classical's right. Of course, I belonged to the society and loved their concerts and went to them regularly. It was started after World War II, and was the second prominent early-music society in this country, the other was in New York. Nobody else was doing early music except those two. They put me on their board of directors and I went regularly to the meetings. Then in 1964 they made me the president, and I was president for seven years.
Lang:Is this a local organization? Just Cambridge?
Beranek:Yes. Just Cambridge. Well, of course the audience was greater Boston but the concerts were in Cambridge. I was president for seven years and during that time I had to hire a new music director for the society, who chose all the programs. She was a professor at Smith College. She was exceptionally talented at getting top early-music people to come from Europe, from New York, and perform for us. The result was, we popularized early music in this area, where, now, almost any week night you can go to early music concerts. It's now of great interest. When I left the society, it was in the black, as well as well-run. Then they made me honorary chairman of the board for life and they will be giving me a special award this December.
Lang:So it's still going strong.
Beranek:Still going strong, and this award is for having brought it from a small organization to one that's quite significant in the Boston area. So that was a start in music.
Lang:Has it grown to national stature, or does it still continue in the greater Boston?
Beranek:No. It still continues in the Boston area. But the music has gone national. We and New York started it and it's national everywhere now. Let's now go over to the Boston Symphony. I was going to concerts regularly. Because of the CSEM experience, they asked me to become a charter member of their new Board of Overseers. They started the board of overseers in 1968. Membership on the Overseers was a routine job until the year the BSO started a fund-raising drive for their 100th anniversary which ended in 1981. I had been made chairman of the board in '77. In 1978 the president of the BSO came to me and said, "Leo, we want you to become the chairman of our committee on resources and take charge of all fund raising." The fund-raising was being done primarily by women volunteers, and a prominent one of those was Jane Bradley, who's a Cabot, and she was working hard, but mainly raising money from her friends, Boston society. When I got into the picture I said, "We've got to bring the business world into this. We've got to get the new high tech presidents interested." And so with great effort I managed to get several of them on the board of overseers. I said, "We've got to get high-tech types interested in the BSO or our future audiences are going to go to hell." Well, the result of my fund-raising management was that we were getting something like $60,000 a year contributions from all of the businesses in Boston, while now it's over a million dollars. By building up a good seed of these people, they've stirred the pot and have invited their friends in, their pals in the high tech companies which have wealthy presidents. The support of the Symphony has never been better. I'm considered to be the person who changed the outlook of the Symphony so that it could pay its players as well as possible, in spite of inflation. In other ways, the BSO is improving. They're building two new buildings now, they're one an annex to the hall and the other new building out at Tanglewood, and all this started from my coming into this picture.
Lang:You remember, "the Lodger spoke only to the Cabots and the Cabots spoke only to God."
Beranek:The Cabots may still do that, but now we speak to the high tech industry. Then in 1980 was made a trustee, which is the legal body that runs the Symphony and Vice-President. In 1983 I was made chairman of the Board of Trustees, and that job ended in 1986 when I became 72. The BSO has a limit of age 72 for trustees. Finally they made me Honorary Chairman. You might be interested, twenty persons have recently contributed $50,000 a piece to name a room "The Beranek Room in Symphony Hall itself".
Lang:In the annex or do you mean they're redoing some spaces within Symphony Hall?
Beranek:They are. This will be in the hall. Yes, and they're going to rename a room, which had been called the Higginson Room. Higginson formed the Symphony. They're going to take his name off and will name a room in the annex after him. Now to another subject. We haven't talked about television on which I spent eleven years of my life. He should do that some other time. with television and all I was building up a constituency, becoming well-known. Harvard people knew me; MIT people knew me; the Boston crowd knew me through the Symphony. The Cambridge crowd knew me through the Cambridge Society for Early Music. Because of television I became known all around the United States. Of course through the National Academy of Engineering, others knew me. There was a certain percentage of Harvard graduates who knew me, because there are Harvard graduates in the sciences and engineering. So I had built a pretty wide constituency. In 1983 the nominating committee for the Board of Overseers at Harvard University came to me. Harvard University has a board of overseers which is its senior governing body. The Corporation is a small group of five that work with the president and make the day to day decisions. The Board of Overseers sets policy, approves all new appointments like the president and tenured professors, etc. It's a powerful board.
Lang:The fellows are full time guys working for the president?
Beranek:Not quite, but they're local, they are volunteers and they work a lot. The overseers meet every two months, six times a year, and they make the broad policies, the big decisions that affect the future of the university.
Lang:Does any other university operate like this? Maybe Yale?
Beranek:Maybe Yale. Yes. Seems to me, maybe at Yale, that's all. And this system was all set up by the Massachusetts legislature back in the 1600s.
Lang:By John Harvard?
Beranek:John Harvard, he was just a donor who gave them a few hundred British pounds and his library and the college was named after him. But the legislature set up the school.
Lang:I didn't realize that the government of Massachusetts had anything to do with it.
Beranek:Yes they did, and in fact the Overseers are still today referred to as the Reverend and Honorable Overseers, because in the first century or so, half the overseers were members of the legislature, and half were members of the church, the Episcopal Church. So we're still referred to in all documents and at Commencement as the Reverend and the Honorable.
Lang:I see. Since Harvard is the oldest university in this country, it must have been the first in this part of the United States and therefore if you were going further in your education, you went to Harvard or you went no place.
Beranek:If you were going to be a top guy, you went to Harvard. There were other schools around but nothing like Harvard.
Lang:But no degree granting schools in the same time period as Harvard, is that correct? 16—?
Lang:That's 16 years after the Pilgrims.
Beranek:About 1638 William and Mary was started. That was the next one. That was the Southern contingency, you see. The Board of Overseers consists of 30 people. The terms are six years long. They elect five new members every year. They're always prominent names. Elizabeth Dole came on as one this year, for example. They are usually Harvard graduates but not always.
Lang:Is she a Harvard graduate?
Beranek:I think so, Radcliffe, same thing. And you'll find the annual ballot, which is competitive, has big names on it and half each year get defeated. Ted Kennedy tried to run for Overseer and was defeated. Jack Kennedy was elected. Now, the ballots are sent out to some 120,000 graduates. There are ten names and five get elected. The election, when they called me, I said, "There is no chance that an acoustician, not an undergraduate of Harvard, could get elected." But I accepted out of curiosity. Lo and behold, when the ballots came in, I got the second highest number of votes, I think about 25 percent of the 120,000 had sent in ballots.
Lang:That's an unusually large amount.
Beranek:Yes. They're always bragging about it.
Lang:That's sort of fantastic.
Beranek:The Board of Overseers meets on Sundays and you have to read a large amount of material in advance. I've been effective because I was a professor at Harvard, a professor at MIT, I've been in business and ran a television station. I've been with the Boston Symphony, a non-profit of big size, I could go to Overseer meetings and talk authoritatively about fund raising. I could talk about education. I could talk about business's view of education, how the media views the whole thing, and it's been an interesting way to contribute to the running of Harvard.
Lang:Give me the dates on that.
Beranek:I was made a member of the board of overseers in the mid-year 1984. I will serve until mid-year 1990, a six year term. I also serve on Harvard visiting committees. I'm on the visiting committee to the department of physics, to the business school, to the Loeb Drama Center, and to the department of biology.
Lang:These are part of the assignments you get as an overseer.
Beranek:You can be on visiting committees and not be part of the overseers, but an overseers serves on at least one. There were two other activities I spent quite a lot of time in. One activity was the International Coordinating Council of Boston. The International Coordinating Council was set up in 1981 with the idea that Boston ought to become more of an international city, both in terms of tourism and in terms of business. The consideration was that greater Boston and even all of Massachusetts should have a better way to present themselves throughout the world. This Council was set up to try to get the government, hotels and industries interested in making Boston more of an international city, also Massachusetts. They should combine their advertising and try to create the feeling internationally, that Boston is pretty hot stuff. So I consented to become chairman of the new Council and was chairman from 1981 to 1987. We did manage to get some good ads out in Europe and Japan and we got television commercials made, and got the city interested in modernizing the Heinz Auditorium. Those were our accomplishments. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun. Then in 1986 I was asked to go on the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is a secret operation to which people can complain about how judges are behaving. The Commission gets some 150 complaints a year from Massachusetts citizens and lawyers, from people who've been in the courts and feel the judge was either drunk or asleep or insulting or something else was wrong. It's the Commission's job to investigate and see if the complaint is true, and then recommend a punishment if true. Mostly the Commission lets the judges know they're being complained against, because most complaints aren't that severe. The complaint often comes from a remark the judge made during the trial. But occasionally the Commission goes so far as to remove a judge from the bench. That usually involves alcohol or open conspiracy to do favors for lawyers or payoffs, that kind of thing. That job went on for about three years. Now that's over.
Lang:That's not on the list then.
Beranek:I think it's listed under Committees. Yes, Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct, 1986-88, I was on it for over two years.
Would you like to take a break now? I think we’ve covered a lot of ground, and next times, we can start with the television involvement, and then move into the scientific contributions, is that reasonable? This is the end of the tape for today.
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