Oral History Transcript — Dr. Leo Leroy Beranek
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Leo Leroy Beranek; October 28, 1988
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.
Session I | Session II
Lang:We are making the second set of tapes to conclude the living history interview. Leo, I would like to ask you if you would please start with the war years and perhaps tell me how it came about that you were appointed the director of the Electro-Acoustics Laboratory at Harvard University in 1940.
Beranek:This is an interesting story. I might preface it by saying how I came to be well-known in the acoustical world. During my graduate period at Harvard, Floyd Firestone, the Editor of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, asked me translate German papers into English, from the journal called Akustische Zeitschrift. They paid me about $10.00 a paper for translation. That was not much money, but I thought people ought to know the better papers of Central Europe. This meant that a lot of acousticians in the country got to know my name. I received my doctorate in the spring of 1940 in the area of "Measurement of Acoustic Impedance" and "The Acoustic Impedance of Commercial Materials." The materials I chose to measure were nationally available. This data interested Professor Philip Morse at MIT. He was preparing, at that time, a theory of sound absorption by porous materials and he used my data as his experimental proof. He was ecstatic about my paper. Morse read his paper at an Acoustical Society meeting and it was subsequently published. The story I want to tell begins in September 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. The United States Air Force went to the National Defense Research Committee (NRDC), directed by Karl Compton at MIT, which had just been set up. (The NRDC established as their first big project the Radiation Laboratory at MIT which did advanced radar research during World War II). A fellow named Colonel Fred Dent who later became a General, was in charge of the contact. He said, “the Air Force has a serious problem’ which is, the pilots complain they get very tired on their long bombing raids — B-17s from England over Germany. At that time American pilots were flying planes with British markings. Further, they can’t communicate by radio or interphone when the airplanes got to 30,000 feet or more altitude. Of course, in those days the planes were not pressurized and the pilots and gunners wore oxygen masks. Dent said someone must do research to solve this problem. The president of MIT, Karl Compton — called Professor Morse, also at MIT, and asked what should be done. Morse said, “this looks like an important piece of work.” Compton says “would you like to direct the research” and Morse said he certainly would. Morse called me after that and said “Leo, I would like to have you join in a project which I’m going to supervise which we will call "Noise Control in Combat Vehicles" — it later turned out to be more than noise control — ”would you be willing to be my chief honcho as the project manager under my general direction?” I said it would be a great thrill and I accepted his invitation. He said he selected me because of my paper on the acoustical materials and he figured to do improved noise control in aircraft you would have to develop new acoustical materials. Then I went to see Professor Hunt who had been my thesis supervisor when I made the measurements on acoustical materials. When I told Professor Hunt about my acceptance of Morse’s invitation, he got terribly angry. He said, “Now look, you’ve done all your work here at Harvard and now MIT is going to take advantage of this and take you away. I’m going to see that you don’t go.” He went to see Compton and said “I don’t like what’s going on.” He said, “The work should be done at Harvard and I want to direct the project.” Compton then called Morse on the phone and said “Here’s what happened” and “what should I do” and Morse said “Well, I was here first and I’m going to direct the project and Beranek is going to come to MIT,” So! Compton was faced with a dilemma and he finally told them “A plague on both your houses, we’ll let Beranek direct the project. At a very tender age of 26 years I was in charge of the Second War Research Laboratory to be set up by the NDRC —
Beranek:Yes, at Harvard. It was decided that it would have to be at Harvard because the argument went “the Radiation Lab is at MIT — MIT can’t have all the laboratories.” Morse and Hunt and a dozen others were put on a committee to supervise me. I was asked to prepare a budget for the first years’ research for the noise control in combat vehicles. By then they decided they should look at all vehicles, not just airplanes. I, very inexperienced, talked with the head of the physics department. He said “Well, we aren’t going to charge anybody for your salary and so all you have to do is put in for other things.” I said I ought to have one assistant. An assistant in those days cost Harvard about $1,500/year. I said, “I’ll need some equipment besides what I already have for these tests and some travel money.” So I put in a budget for $4,000 for a years’ work. Well, the big meeting was held in New York City in October. Morse and Hunt both came to the meeting along with an array of colonels and generals from the Air Force. The military representatives said this was one of the most important problems they had — the pilots had to be able to talk and not to get dead tired on their missions. What is your budget? I stated my budget and there was silence in the room. Colonel Dent said “Now look, there’s a war on in Europe — first of all we won’t talk with you at all unless you multiply your number by ten and secondly you must spend this amount in the next six months.” So suddenly I had an $80,000 (annual) project in place of my $4,000 request. Dent said it had to be done with all possible speed, that I must hire competent people and set up a proper laboratory and get going at once. When I came back on the train with Hunt and we were sitting in opposite lower berths, I said “Well, the first thing I am going to do is get a telephone.” He said “Leo, take it easy.” We had one telephone for all the professors in the applied physics department. But I got my telephone and hired some of the younger people who later became well known in acoustics: Wayne Rudmose, Rudolph Nichols, Robert Wallace, Kenneth Clark and others.
Lang:Are these fellows living?
Beranek:Nichols died about three months ago. Robert Wallace, who died a couple of years ago, was one of the prime movers in the follow-up on the invention of the transistor at the Bell Labs. The Labs named five people responsible for the transistor development — three of them got Nobel Prizes. Wallace didn’t, but their contributions were written up in the IEEE Proceedings. Anyhow, I put together an effective group of people (I can’t name them all now) but these were the people who then got into acoustics in various places in the United States after the war. What we did was two things. First, we developed one new material working with Owens Corning, the fiberglass company. It was a fine fibered glass wool, each fiber of which was 1 micron in diameter. They brought the first sample to me and said it costs about $10,000 per half a pound. In quantity, it later cost about $.10 a pound.
Lang:This was extruded filament?
Beranek:Yes, extruded filaments and very, very strong. The reason the material was so effective acoustically was, it turns out from theory, that each fiber should have a maximum area so that there would be the maximum friction between the moving particles and the fiber areas. The way to get maximum area is make the fiber — for its weight — as small as possible. We developed the standard structures in use today in all airplanes as a primary way of quieting them, based on the very fine-fibered mineral wool. We studied how you could interleaf it with non-porous layers. That is, you have a layer of porous material, the fiberglass and a layer of non-porous material, another layer of fiberglass, and so on. The acoustical performance improved as more porous layers were interleaved with sheets that were impervious to air flow. With this construction one can obtain good reduction of noise in transmission above about 500 hertz from outside the airplane (where the engines are) to the inside. Below 500 hertz the structure becomes progressively less effective because overall it is very light and it moves as a whole at the lower frequencies, thus allowing the sound to go through. We quickly discovered that the real problem the pilots were facing was an inability to communicate by voice. We flew on the airplanes with the test pilots. At bombing height of the B-17’s, above 30,000, voice communication stopped entirely. So I took off to Washington and asked for the money to solve this problem. Parenthetically, I went every Monday to Washington for meetings on the various problems we worked on all during World War II. At this time I met with the proper people about setting up a laboratory (in addition to what we already had) to study the problem of no communication at high altitudes. Well, one of the things we did was set up an experiment at the Harvard Public School of Health in an altitude chamber where we had people talk. They’d have their oxygen masks on, and then take it off and talk a little bit and then put the oxygen mask back on. We found that the voice weakened quite rapidly with a decrease in air pressure. We found, however, that the ear did not change its sensitivity at high altitudes. So one thing we had to work on then was how to compensate for the loss in speaking level. Also we found that the microphones used in the oxygen masks went bad at high altitudes and so did the earphones. Furthermore, noise from the engines was getting into the ear because the earphones fit very sloppily against the ears inside the helmets. In fact, the earphones were just put on the helmets from the outside of the helmets and there was considerable air space between the earphones and the ears. So, we went into a program of new microphones, new earphones, and putting doughnut cushions inside the helmet that sealed the earphones against the head —
Beranek:Yes, the doughnuts sealed the earphones against the head and excluded a lot of the noise, particularly the noise at higher frequencies where speech takes place. Then the big question came — “How are we going to get new equipment built and in use fast?” At that time an Army-Navy-British Research Board had just been formed. We got to them early. The British said they would adopt the same earphones and microphones as all the air services of the United States armed forces, including the Air Force, the Navy, and even the Army which had only helicopters. The Board said that they had to be sure that we picked the right equipment. With our measuring equipment we found the only company that had developed microphones and earphones that would work at higher altitudes was the Bell Telephone Laboratories. They didn’t know they would work at high altitudes. We tested everything in sight — equipment from all the manufacturers in our country and there were about ten. When we informed the Board that the Bell Labs had a microphone and an earphone that worked at high altitudes, they said “We will take over the Western Electric Hawthorne plant and put it to work manufacturing only these earphones and microphones. They can make enough of them in a half-year so the services can have them as fast as possible.“ In about a year, we had new microphones, earphones, and improved noise-reducing helmets all over the armed services of the American war machine and the British. We even had to specify, I remember drawing myself, the dimensions of the earphones they were going to put in the helmets. Those drawings, which I made at my desk, were the ones that were adopted as the standard size for military earphones. New microphones had to go in oxygen masks, so we had to redesign the oxygen masks. We worked with the oxygen mask people. At that time, the Electro-Acoustic Laboratory had about 80 technical people and 20 supporting staff. It was all very exciting. Then, along came another project — since we were so successful with the communication systems. The Navy said that the Japanese kamikazes were starting to show up in the Pacific and “We’ve got to figure out a way to stop them because they come in at a low altitude, the radar doesn’t get on them until they’re fairly close and by that time there’s no time to swing the guns around. The best defense against them is a Marine on the deck with a rifle.” Our ships in the Pacific were suffering enormous damage. The Navy asked if I would set up a simulated command center on land — a simulated ship on land — and that ship would (on land) have all the latest radars that were on war ships. Our job was to figure out, in the combat information center of a ship, how to get the first radar indication of a kamikaze coming in turned into a command where to point and shoot the ship’s guns. It turned out that the delays on the existing ships were enormous. So I staffed the "ship-on-land" with psychologists and time and motion people. We built a new building for the "ship-on-land" which was located on Beavertail Point at Jamestown, Rhode Island, at the bottom end of Narragansett Bay. At that very tip of land you get about 100 degrees open-sea sweep for the radar. We arranged to have planes come and raid our ship-on-land from the Quonset Air Force Base which is nearby.
Lang:At the Naval air station —
Beranek:Yes, the Naval air station. There were two problems with all this. The first problem was that the Navy had made a rule — we were reporting directly to the Admiral King’s office, the Chief of Naval Operations for the United States Navy — that the newest combat information equipment could not go into a land base. It had to go to ships at sea. To side-step the rule, the Navy commissioned my laboratory as the USS Beavertail. That didn’t give me any stripes, but I was in effect in command of a Navy "ship." The radars and other things in the Combat Information Center, were shipped into the Quonset receiving center, labeled USS Beavertail. We sent trucks to carry it over. The laboratory was built in no time flat by the Turner Construction Company and we installed all the equipment as fast as possible. Now, we had a ship fully-equipped with radars. Getting the airplanes to raid the "ship" turned out to be a problem. Without any written material at all, Admiral King’s office called the Commodore — the Naval Air Station had a Commodore in charge which is a rank they don’t normally have in the Navy) and said “you supply them with the airplanes they need to raid their "ship". The Commodore said “where’s the paper work?’ King said “we have no time for paper work, raid the station.” We talked with the Quonset personnel about how to raid the station. We set up a raiding program during night hours so nobody could see what was coming in. All information had to come through the radar. . Incidentally, two of us went out on the shakedown cruise of the USS Canberra, which was a new heavy cruiser ship, and spent a little over a month on it watching them do practice gunnery. I got to know how a ship runs. This was all done in the fall of 1943. That month was my stint in the Navy. I had a special uniform that the Navy provided me. It didn’t have any shoulder bars on it but I did have a little signet on my collar and I could go anywhere in the Navy I wanted. I could eat with the Admiral or eat with the enlisted men. It was quite an exciting experience. We ran our experiments over a period of about six months using Navy planes as they were available out of the base. We developed new procedures and selected new equipment. I think by January of 1945 we would have been ready to have new devices installed in the ships. In fact, installations were made in two ships by August, but then the war was over. The work we did was not of any actual benefit
Lang:Tell me, Leo, on this CIC problem was there any acoustic involvement or was this all purely electromagnetic radar?
Beranek:It was all radar — all time and motion, taking the signals on the radar which shows blips on the tubes and converting them into commands to get the guns pointed in the right way quickly.
Lang:Was there any acoustic link?
Beranek:Well, the only acoustic link would be the telephone equipment.
Lang:That’s what I mean.
Beranek:We wanted to improve the telephone equipment, but the Navy said nothing doing — they weren’t going to put in electric powered equipment — it all had to be voice-actuated. The quality was terrible but we were stuck with it.
Lang:Just finishing up this very interesting story, you mentioned the manner in which you became director of the laboratory at Harvard and that both Professor Morse and Professor Hunt were involved. This was 1940 and four years earlier Professor Morse had published the first edition of Vibration and Sound. There was obviously some jealousy between Professor Hunt and Professor Morse. I wonder if there was any cause for concern as far as the publication of Vibration and Sound was concerned?
Beranek:Yes there was. Morse and Hunt lived in the same apartment building, one floor above the other. In the period in which Morse was writing Vibration and Sound (or Sound and Vibration, I forget which way it goes), he would come downstairs and chat with Hunt. Morse was a mathematical physicist, not an acoustician. However, MIT had asked him to teach a course in acoustics. That is what led to his book. But he was living above Hunt and he would come down — both of them were married — to Hunt’s apartment and they would discuss Morse’s manuscript. So Hunt always was a little peeved because Morse hadn’t given him any credit for all these talks in his book. There was that element of competition. They were never unkind to each other. There were never any bitter words. The only time anything bitter came up was involved in the —
Lang:— Directorship of your lab. That’s interesting because of all the great things Professor Hunt did one of the things that he did not do — he had his electroacoustic book, but he did not have a rich library of books that he wrote.
Beranek:We used Morse’s text in Hunt’s course on acoustics.
Lang:That’s very interesting.
Beranek:Incidentally, I might have pointed out that the Harvard’s name for the USS Beavertail was the Systems Research Laboratory. I had separate stationery for the Electro-Acoustics Laboratory and for the Systems Research Laboratory.
Lang:The Systems Research Laboratory would have been looking at the CIC system, the whole thing as an integrated whole with the electromagnetic aspect of it — obviously of key importance because with the slow moving sound waves you couldn’t detect kamikazes.
Beranek:I think I might have told you, I can’t remember what we discussed about acoustical measurements, but during World War II having managed the Electro-Acoustics Laboratory and nobody else in the world practically was working on airborne acoustics — we developed all the new things in acoustics. My book — the 1949 book Acoustic Measurements — was one of the great opportunities. All the research that had been done in the Electro-Acoustic Laboratory under my direction during this war period went into that book and became a record of our war work. Before that time there were no standard microphones, no standard way of calibration that gave a good answer. The whole business of speech articulation in noise, of how you measure overall responses of communications systems to determine their overall efficacy in noisy environments and this kind of thing, came out during that war period. It is all in my book, Acoustic Measurements.
Lang:A side note that I would like to mention here occurred in 1953. Shortly after the period we have just been discussing, you were present at the First International Congress on Acoustics in Delft in the Netherlands. As I recall it was June.
Lang:At that time you had conversations and discussions with Professor Erwin Meyer of the University of Goettingen who had led the German war effort in acoustics. He was of great interest to the American armed forces — particularly the Navy — because he had been responsible for much of the anti-submarine work that had gone on in the German navy. I wonder if you have any recollections, when you met Meyer in 1953 — because I remember well sitting on a bus going somewhere or other as part of that first International Congress on Acoustics where you had many discussions with Meyer. He died three or four years later so that may have been the last time you saw him and that is why I wonder if you have any recollections from that period as they related to, since you were leading in many respects, the American air-borne acoustical war effort. Did you have a chance to compare notes with the leading scientist in Germany who had led the German under-water acoustical war effort?
Beranek:My first meeting with Meyer was part of an International Standards Organization meeting — ISO meeting held in England in 1948. Meyer was there. They asked me to be Chairman of the two-day meeting. My first question was “are there any rules about voting? Do people vote by some kind of percentages or does every country have an equal vote?” They all looked sort of puzzled that I would ask such a question and they said, “no, we all vote equally.’ So I chaired that meeting in a kind of haze because I didn’t know how to run an international meeting. All I can remember is that when it was over — my chairmanship ran for two days — they all pounded the table with their fists. I didn’t know what that meant. I’d never before applauded anybody by pounding the table. I learned later that was a good sign, not a bad one. Anyhow, I did have conversations with Meyer and I remember a kind of shiver going down my back, thinking that here was a man on the other side opposing the work that we were doing and each of us working diligently for our nation and our nations hating each other so much. It was a very interesting experience. Then I went to Goettingen, where he taught, after the 1953 Congress — and spent two days in Meyer’s laboratories and found them very interesting. He was doing some very interesting things there and he showed me the work he was supervising in electromagnetic waves and in optics.
Lang:Yes, because his third physical institute was not just acoustics. It was all sorts of radiation.
Beranek:He and his wife had me once out to their home and at other times to restaurants. We had very long and very good discussions at that time. But our war-time paths were different. I never did anything in underwater sound. I also visited many other countries — all the leading countries where any war-time acoustics had gone on, including the Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, and Switzerland (Willie Furrer was prominent in Switzerland at that time) and the Netherlands. This all took place in 1948. Another trip that I made was to Cremer’s operation in the Technical University of Berlin where I saw much air-borne work. That is when I became acquainted with the scientists who later became my partners at Mueller-BBM in Munich. Now let’s go to Delft. I gave a paper at the "International Conference on Acoustics" on "Acoustic Measurements: Where Is It Going from Here?" All that I can remember about the paper was that I said someday we would develop a way of measuring sound power or sound intensity directly. I indicated the experiments that Firestone had carried on at the University of Michigan. I pointed out that his device was completely unsatisfactory — we had tried it in the Electro-Acoustics Laboratory.) Of course it took a long time after 1953 before sound intensity became something you measure routinely, actually only in the 1980s.
Lang:Well it was the electronic revolution of the 1970s which made this feasible but that was certainly very predictive. We had to wait for the technology to catch up. There was one other personality you might like to talk about because I am not exactly sure how we fit it into the picture, but I remember in 1948 when I was working in Paris, you visited Paris in order to talk to Professor Chavasse. I don’t know whether there were any interactions between your war work on the telephony and communications and what Chavasse did or had done, but he was certainly a leading light in French electroacoustics in that period.
Beranek:You must remember that by that time I had already written Acoustic Measurements. It took the publisher more than a year to publish it so it came out in 1949. I had all phases of electro-acoustics fresh in my mind. It was very interesting to go into Chavasse’s French laboratory where they were doing in the telephone company many of the things that we had done in our laboratory only not under the pressure that we had. They had developed an artificial ear. They used the thermophone method of calibration of microphones. In my book, I explored the accuracy of the thermophone and found it was wrong by a decibel and a half compared to reciprocity calibrations. I believed that reciprocity was basic and there was no way it could be wrong. Indeed the Bell Labs also used the thermophone. As a result of our war work on the reciprocity calibration method — which was not invented by us but went back a long ways — we showed that it really was accurate and that the thermophone was wrong by a decibel and a half. So that was a topic of discussion with Chavasse. Also, we discussed the different earphone couplers for coupling earphones to testing microphones, which were going to appear in my book. I expressed my belief about which ones were good. We discussed the American standard six-cubic-centimeter coupler. They hadn’t heard of it. We had a lot of good exchanges with Chavasse and with his colleague Lehmann.
Lang:Yes René Lehmann.
Beranek:Then I went to Marseille to a French National Laboratory. That was something else again. Here I met Professor F. Canac, who was an architectural acoustician. He was a grand old man — very elegant in every way. He didn’t speak any English so we had to use an interpreter, but in his laboratory there were several acoustics people who spoke English very well. We went over their research. Primarily what they were doing of interest to me was transmission of sound through structures. Our World War II airplane work was very interesting to them. Our discussions had to do with comparing what they were doing in the theoretical analysis of sound transmission through structures with my actual World War II data on airplanes with panels of different weights and for different purposes, which they had not studied. The only sidelight on the Marseille visit was that at lunch every noon there would be perhaps five of us. We would consume five bottles of wine plus "one for the table." We drank all six. By 4:00 in the afternoon I began to see again! All of the city of Marseille around the harbor had been bombed out — it was just flat rubble.) I remember one French restaurant that was operating out of a little shack and they had set up three tables and chairs amongst the stones. We had a lovely French meal on the edge of the harbor with nothing but rocks around us. Those were exciting days. Of course, flying over Germany and seeing every city smashed to nothing — the experience, the shock of seeing such complete devastation — was unbelievable.
Lang:I would like to move on to your engineering and scientific accomplishments in a short summary type of format, which I think has been summarized very well in this biographical data file. Referring to it, I think we have touched on many of these things in our discussion here but I would to summarize each of these items because I think they are particularly relevant to this interview. I am looking at the five major categories in which your contributions are most notable and would like to, just very quickly, review them so we have the benefit, not only of listening, but of some background to that which you will present in this interview. The first area is the fundamentals of electroacoustics. This morning we have, in fact, touched on many of the items that are listed here. We have talked about the theory of sound absorption by lightweight structure containing porous materials and much of that material is contained in your doctoral thesis, as I recall.
Beranek:No, most of that work was done in the World War II period. A paper by George Work and me came out on that subject after World War II, in 1949 to be exact.
Lang:The second item here is the design of speech communication systems for noisy environments. This was a direct outgrowth of your directorship of the Harvard Electro-Acoustic Laboratory and the work that was done for the armed forces, the noisy environments being those of aircraft, tanks, and on ship board where there is need for reliable communications in high noise environments.
Beranek:In the case of tanks I had in fact invented a thin earphone. You see the metal helmet that was standard in the infantry in World War II fit too tightly around the ears so you couldn’t get earphones under it. I developed and patented a thin earphone that was built by the Bell Laboratories — or I should say the Hawthorne Western Electric Plant — which was about a quarter of an inch thick. They used two of them underneath the helmet.
Lang:That is interesting. Was the reason that the original helmet was so tight fitting was to keep out the noise by any chance?
Beranek:No they just felt that they couldn’t have bulky helmets because the soldiers wouldn’t wear them. Also it was easier to cook with them — the soldiers cooked soup in those helmets!
Lang:The development of the Wedge-lined Anechoic chamber we have touched on. This is the first chamber that was built at Harvard University in 1943 and this we have discussed at great length. It lasted 25 years and was the forerunner of many such chambers. The next item is the development of standards for laboratory microphones and their absolute calibration for testing of microphones and earphones. This of course would be an outgrowth of the work on electroacoustics.
Beranek:Which we covered with couplers and the reciprocity calibrations.
Lang:Not all of the above items are well documented in Acoustic Measurements because the Anechoic Sound chamber is well documented in your Beranek and Sleeper article in J.A.S.A. which appeared in 1946.
Beranek:That is correct.
Lang:But certainly the design of electroacoustic systems is well documented in, as I recall, the IRE Proceedings that appeared right after the war.
Beranek:In the September, 1947 issue.
Lang:Yes. We also talked about —
Beranek:One point on that. French and Steinberg had developed a similar method —
Lang:At Bell Labs?
Beranek:At Bell Labs and I built on that. Many people think the papers are the same but there are some later things in my paper which make it more accurate; two principle things being they had a 6 dB number in their formulas, which proved to be wrong, so that the formulas that were used in my paper checked very much more closely with the articulation tests. They did not have the advantage of all the articulation tests that we made to verify the methods. Secondly they had no explanation for what happens when you turn the volume up on a system as you do in an airplane and you get into a situation where the ear overloads. I put in the first indication that there is a threshold above which any sounds that appear in the ear just don’t register. Therefore, if you keep turning the volume up, first the intelligibility will flatten off and then it gets worse as you turn it up further because more and more of the speech sounds get in an area where they don’t register.
Lang:This is very interesting because this comes up to today where the younger generation is turning the volume up to the point where they’re getting enormous amounts of distortion, but distortion seems to be the desirable element!
Beranek:Anyhow, those are the two contributions to speech communication,— first, straightening out the formulas and second, figuring out why it was that these systems lost intelligibility when you turn the volume up too high.
Lang:Moving to aircraft noise and airplane quieting. We’ve discussed this morning your work on the theory and measurement of sound transmission through light weight structures which contain acoustical materials, particularly the development of the first fine fiberglass material for absorptive purposes.
Beranek:I am particularly proud of the theory part of this. I published a paper on this in 1947, which was followed by Work’s and my paper in 1949.
Lang:Would you say that the quieting of the Convair 340 was the first time that these principles were adapted to commercial aircraft because all that you had been doing up to this point in time had really been in military aircraft.
Beranek:No, I don’t think it was first. Boeing immediately had access to all of this work and they put these lightweight structures into their post-war Boeing civilian planes. Now the Convair was special in as much as it was the last of the propeller planes with piston engines. It was quite popular as far as its size was concerned, but it was so noisy that people wouldn’t ride in it. So Convair came to BBN and said "can you quickly fix the noise situation — we’ll turn over the whole factory —all the shops and everything if you’ll get the 340 quiet fast. We have a chance to sell a number of planes before the jet age takes over, but if we don’t get them sold right away it will be too late." I went to San Diego with Ed Kerwin and our two wives where we spent three months working out a solution.
Lang:Out there being?
Beranek:We lived in La Jolla, north of San Diego. We put mufflers on the Convair 340 to muffle the engine noise and that was very important; we used some new methods in muffling which had not been used before.
Lang:Approximately what year would this have been?
Beranek:This would have been the summer of 1954. The jet age came in 1958 and they had to beat that. Then we also used double windows and we put in the acoustic structures that we already have talked about. The planes then sold well up until the time the jet age really took over.
Lang:You were following up the application of your book Principles of Sound Control in Airplanes which was the summary that had been done on all the military aircraft during World War II.
Beranek:Except we did not cover mufflers in that book — that was new on the Convair project. And the studies of George Work and me were done afterwards.
Lang:Skipping the next item because I am going to come back to that, I think the NACA — the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics — the predecessor to NASA — and the Lewis Laboratory and supersonic wind tunnel muffler has been discussed at length. Then the shoehorn of the jet age into US airports, I think we have also gone over that very nicely. And the supersonic transport. I think that is not very adequately covered. This is the American supersonic transport of Boeing which never materialized due to the political climate of the time, I would guess. Is there anything you would like to add on that?
Beranek:I remember that Bill Magruder, who later went to the White House, asked me if I would head up a committee that would be called a Presidential Committee on Neighborhood Supersonic Aircraft Noise. We were to try to do something about the noise from supersonic aircraft on the takeoff because that had become the number one reason why people said they didn’t want a supersonic aircraft. I got together the leading American acoustical people as fellow committee members. Ken Eldred was second in command. We made a quick study of the noise situation and then went to Boeing and sat with them for one week with their design engineers and we pounded away at how you could get the noise down and not make the airplane so heavy it wouldn’t fly. We did manage to reduce the noise levels in the supersonic plane — of course it was not built, this was on paper — by about 12 decibels. That was sufficient to make take-off noise no longer the problem. We got this story across in testimony to the Congress. The economics of the plane finally killed it, not the noise.
Lang:Did the American Boeing design have an afterburner like the Concorde?
Beranek:It did not have an afterburner.
Lang:So you had a slightly easier problem than the British had with their Concorde.
Beranek:As I say economics became the issue. Fuel was very costly then.
Lang:I am now going to the control of noise in buildings and industry and I think we have not adequately discussed ventilation system noise and the related acoustical performance of single layered panels. As I recall, Leo, these ventilation system noise studies originally were initiated at MIT. You had a small team — as I recall there were some Navy and Coast Guard officers involved in that work.
Beranek:Yes, the way that went — we covered this somewhere else — it started with Dick Bolt. Dick Bolt had got the acoustical consulting job through MIT’s president on the United Nations building. He decided he couldn’t do it alone so he came in to me and said “Why don’t we join together and form a company.” We wrote out the plans and it was very quickly decided that one of the things we had to know more about was air conditioning noise. There was nothing in the literature except that if one lined the ventilation ducts with absorbing material, the noise would be reduced. There was no knowledge of how much noise fans made, there was no knowledge of criteria and therefore you didn’t know how much material to put in the ducts or how to choose fans. So I set up experiments in 1951 with two Naval groups. There were two US Coast Guard graduate students — Peistrup and Wesler, and two from the US Navy, Reynolds and Wilson. We worked out methods of determining the noise produced by fans, how to measure it, and we got it down to power measurements so you knew how much power was going down the ducts. That was the big contribution from those studies. Then simultaneously I was getting interested in noise criteria because we had to know the other end. This is pretty well documented in two 1989 papers I have published on "Balanced Noise Criteria", in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and the Journal of Noise Control Engineering.
Lang:Let’s go to that.
Beranek:Let’s start from the beginning. We needed damage to hearing criteria and criteria that could be used for factories, for office noise, for concert halls and for living spaces. That whole study began with a "bang" when the first court cases ruled in favor of labor. Those court cases arose from the noise which deafened workers who had worked for many years around drop forges. Buffalo, New York was the place where the drop forge case in 1951 was centered. It was the first time that labor had won a personnel damage case where there was not instant damage such as from an explosion. This case set the whole industry into a panic. The result was that I started a summer program on noise control at MIT in 1953. The first program had 150 students and the second in 1955 had 200. Those were the biggest summer programs that MIT had ever had. In the summer program, we were trying to inform industry and pathologists what the whole noise picture amounted to. We had measured noise of drop forges and other situations and we collected information on damage to hearing from Western Electric and the weaving industry where very noisy looms were operated. We started putting together our first damage to hearing criteria. Those were set a little high at the time. It turned out later that the damage to hearing criteria were stricter, that is to say, permissible noise levels had to be lower than we had estimated in those early days. This whole thing was written up in my books “Acoustics” in 1954 and “Noise Reduction” in 1960. The drop forge case also was simultaneously accompanied by the beginning of the jet age and we were called Bolt, Beranek and Newman Inc. to quiet jet engine test calls. That led to Lewis —
Lang:The Supersonic Wind Tunnel which we’ve already talked about to some length. Leo, I would like to jump to the field of architectural acoustics and then return to the criteria situation which I think is important because it brings us up to today. On the architectural acoustics, which I think is well documented in the earlier discussions — particularly the AES tape — there are three aspects that are of particular importance that your contributions insofar as the acoustics of concert halls is concerned — the first is: audiences and chairs absorb sound in auditoriums in proportion to the floor area not in proportion to the number of people in the audience. The second is that the key factor in the acoustics of a high quality concert hall is the initial time delay gap which is defined as the gap in time between the initial sound reaching the listeners’ ears from the stage and the first reflection from side wall or ceiling surfaces, and you found that the optimum initial time to delay gap was on the order of 20 to 30 milliseconds. The third aspect of your work in architectural acoustics that was of key importance was that sound diffusing hanging panels can be used successfully in a concert hall to produce optimum initial time delay gaps at a listener’s location.
Beranek:Let me just make a comment on this. Up until the time that I got into the sound absorption of audiences, there had been no contribution — I can almost use the word "no" and I documented it in a paper — by any of the people working in the field of architecture acoustics from the time of Sabine on — Sabine’s big contribution, of course, was reverberation equation which is in use today. In between there was no contribution to the field of concert or opera hall acoustics except people saying that the old halls were good, why don’t you copy them. Then the three things that I brought in were my contributions which you just mentioned. The fourth thing of great importance that followed was the discovery by extensive research done in Germany, both under Manfred Schroeder’s direction at the University of Goettingen and Lothar Cremer’s direction at the Technical University of Berlin. They discovered that an abundance of early lateral reflections help to improve the sound in a hall. The early reflections must not only come from overhead but it is very important that much of the sizeable amount of the early reflected energy — should come more or less laterally between angles of 15 degrees away from the plane looking straight ahead and 90 degrees. That contribution was the next important one that was made in that field and it came out of Manfred Schroeders’ and Lothar Cremer’s work. My studies, made earlier, led to my book Music, Acoustics, and Architecture which did not include any consideration of early lateral reflection.
Lang:I would like to return to the question of noise criteria — in so far as both indoor noise and outdoor noise are concerned — your contributions are extremely well summarized in a paper that appeared recently in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, August 1989, in which you review the history of the development of the noise criteria and the curves used to predict whether the noise in any spaces will interfere with speech communications and also insofar as the acceptability in interior spaces. What I would like to do now is spend a little time reviewing, if we could, not only the history but the latest status of where we are with respect to balanced noise criteria and curves to guide acoustical design primarily indoors but also outdoors.
Beranek:Well, the thing that has developed over the years has been a set of curves which on one hand — on the high frequency end — are related to the speech interference level. We have found that if you average the sound pressure levels in the four octave bands that start with 500 and go through 4,000 hertz, the average of those is very closely related to the articulation index which in turn can relate to word intelligibility or syllable intelligibility or sentence intelligibility. In the lower end octave bands you can stand more noise than you can at the speech frequencies and how much more is shown by these criterion curves. With the original curves that we derived we said that we would draw a curve with the requirement that the sound pressure level in no octave band should be any higher than that curve. If you were designing, say, for an auditorium you might pick a curve which is called NCB-15 meaning a Balanced Noise Control Curve with a speech interference level of 15 dB, speech interference level being the average of those 4 frequency bands. If any band of the bands extending from 63 hertz through 8,000 fell above one of these curves — and these curves are different in shape at low noise levels than they are, say, in control rooms where you can stand a lot higher noise levels than you can in auditoriums — if they fell above the curves then the noise levels ought to be reduced. Now what my latest work says, first, you have to have the speech interference level right but then it is not a question of the noise level in any one band going above the curve but rather, a) start with a criterion curve with the desired speech interference level, (b) add 3 dB to it, and (c) to be acceptable, the levels in the lower bands should not fall above that curve. If they do, one calls this spectrum imbalance. For example, say you’re dealing with an auditorium, if you measure a certain speech interference level, say 15 dB, which selects the NCB criterion curve. Add 3 dB to all the values. The levels in no band should fall above those levels. If any of the levels fall above the curve you need to reduce the noise in those bands. This is saying that it is the imbalance of the curve that is important. That has shown up in other psychological studies where they say "well, it doesn’t really matter what the level of the curve is, whether it is noisy or quiet relatively, if the curve is imbalanced, say, there is too much low frequency relative to the speech level, people are going to object to it." This imbalance of the curve has become an important new contribution. We even have a case where in one building — it’s discussed in the new 1989 papers — they had reduced the overall noise levels in a room by about 15 decibels. But the complaints increased, they didn’t decrease. The reason was that the high frequency levels were decreased more than the low frequency ones and it made an imbalanced curve that was more annoying than the original one. Even though they pulled the noise levels in all the bands down, the imbalance created complaints. That is a big move forward. Then just before this time, Warren Blazer came out with levels at low frequencies where he found that room walls and ceilings rattled — modern constructions are light enough to rattle, to shake and vibrate. So, using his findings, we have added some shaded regions to these curves in the lowest frequency bands — 125 hertz and below — which say if the levels are too high in those bands and your room has light weight construction you may get feel-able vibrations or rattles. That is Warren Blazer’s important contribution and it is included in my latest curves.
Lang:As you know, Leo, the International Standards Organization or the ISO, adopted your curves and some other curves into what was standardized as the ISO Noise Ratings Curves first published roughly in 1965. They were not exactly the same as the NC or the SC curves and I wonder if you have any recollection of the history of development of the ISO curves.
Beranek:They were pretty similar to our early curves but I had always drawn my curves through even decibel points so the curves kind of staggered down whereas Professor Kosten of Delft — who was involved in international standards — said he didn’t like these "jaggey" curves that went through even decibel points. He wanted to draw the lines smooth. Of course that meant some bands showed 3/4 decibels or 1/2 decibels, and you could round them off to suit your taste. I was doing the rounding off for the guy writing specifications. The first ISO curves merely looked to me as though all they’d done was smoothed the curves so they wouldn’t have a jagged appearance. To the best of my knowledge, they never did anything after that. They never brought them up to date.
Lang:Well, Kosten died.
Beranek:Yes, and they apparently didn’t see any need to revise them. Now I think that the balanced noise criterion study has so clearly pointed out that speech interference level and spectrum imbalance are the important things, not just levels of someone band being above the curve. I think there should be a revision. I don’t see how they can avoid not changing.
Lang:The American National Standards Institute S12W18 is now working on this subject.
Beranek:Yes, they are. We’ll see if this is something they will adopt or if some other laboratory will come out with another variation.
Lang:Leo, do you feel that we have covered the major items here adequately? Is there anything you would like to add as far as your engineering accomplishments are concerned in fundamental acoustics, electroacoustics, aircraft noise, control of noise in buildings, criteria of all types of acoustics?
Beranek:The only thing — and I can’t remember if we covered it but I suspect we did out in California — was the question of Wallace Clement Sabine —
Lang:I think we did — on the AES tape.
Beranek:This had to do with the discovery of his notebooks.
Lang:Can we go over that again? I am not sure that was adequately covered on the AES tape.
Beranek:Well, along about 1931 (I think it was) Professor Theodore Lyman at Harvard — he was famous for the Lyman spectra taken from diffraction gratings —
Beranek:Optical spectra taken from diffraction gratings. He was the head of the physics laboratory at Harvard University for many years, and there is a building called the Lyman Laboratory. Well, Theodore Lyman decided to collect the papers of Wallace Clement Sabine — on Architectural Acoustics — and publish them as a book called Collected Papers of Wallace Clement Sabine. Lyman was the author. He says in the preface that unfortunately none of Sabine’s notebooks, consulting papers, correspondence or anything, remains. He presumed that, in what he called a fit of despondency, that Sabine had burned everything. I spoke to Lyman in his office, who was still living while I was doing my research at Harvard. I asked him about Sabine and he said “I saw Sabine burning a large quantity of papers outside this laboratory.”
Lang:Now Sabine would have died about 1918?
Beranek:That’s right. It was January 1919.
Lang:He had some form of cancer?
Beranek:He had cancer of the kidney. Sabine had become quite depressed as he got sicker. He didn’t know he had cancer but he knew something was wrong and he didn’t feel well. In fact, it was affecting his mind, so he couldn’t remember whether he’d eaten or not, toward the end. He was a great problem to his family because he was going in and out, walking out doors part of the time being perfectly normal and then his mind would go bad. Now let’s go to 1975. I was sitting home one day, in Cambridge. I got a call from Ralph Huntley at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He said that they were going through an old closet at the IIT and on the upper shelf amidst dust they found a pile of about a dozen notebooks which, on examination, looked like Wallace Clement Sabine’s notebooks. They didn’t know how they got there but they wanted to know what they should do with them. I didn’t lose any time thinking. I said “Look, those papers should go into the Harvard archives. If they are his notebooks, they are really a treasure. But I’ll tell you what I’d like to do. Would you be willing to send the notebooks to me, designating that they should go to the archives and allow me to study the notebooks and correlate them with his published papers? Then I would make up a cross index, so that somebody studying his published papers would know in which notebooks they could find the original data. Finally, I would like to write a paper on this.” The IIT people consulted with the director of IIT and he said that would be fine and they were sent to me.
Lang:Were they his notebooks and did they correlate with the published papers?
Beranek:The notebooks came and I was really excited because it was believed that there was nothing of his works remaining. I went through them and found that indeed everything was there, except there were four years in which he had nothing in the notebooks. Those are the four years after the Boston Symphony Hall was completed. It turned out that Symphony Hall opened to general praise but after a couple of years the leading music critic in Boston — whose name was Apthorp of the Boston Transcript. The Transcript was Boston’s intellectual newspaper of that time. Apthorp stated in an article that he’d finally come to the conclusion that the only difference among the opinions of the music critics about the acoustics of Boston Symphony Hall was the degree of its badness. He indicated that musicians were not happy with it. This must have hit Sabine very hard because he had published a paper that included the acoustical design of the hall, in which he predicted it was going to be a great success. He went too far on this; he almost used the words “I guarantee it’ll be a success.” To have this happen to him must have been devastating; he published nothing for four years.
Lang:Is there a record that he made these statements?
Beranek:Yes. It is in a book, a biography of him that his wife had commissioned. His wife hired a writer, Dana Orcutt, to write the biography. That boast of Sabine appears there. So he should have been depressed. I found I could correlate everything he published with the notebooks — both before and after this period from 1900-1904 — but there was nothing that indicated that he had done any research between 1900 and 1904. I tried then to figure out why. I studied the Orcutt biography and found that as soon as he got through with his Symphony Hall design studies he was under high pressure from the Physics Department at Harvard — he was an Assistant Professor there — to get back in department activities and do more teaching and stop fooling around in acoustics. He had spent so much time on doing two things: (1) correcting the acoustics of the old Fogg art museum — he spent almost four years on that. The Fogg was later called Hunt Hall but it’s torn down now. There is a new Fogg Art Museum building now.
Lang:It had nothing to do with Fredrick Hunt, your thesis advisor?
Beranek:Hunt was, I think, an architect. The old Fogg (Hunt Hall) contained a circular auditorium — a cut-off cylinder; flat ceiling and a circular plan. It was so bad acoustically that it couldn’t be used for lectures. Sabine carried seat cushions from the nearby Saunders Theatre and put them in the hall to reduce the reverberation time. He found the proper number of seat cushions. Then he recommended hair felt as a substitute, which could be bought on the market. They put the hair felt in the right places and the hall was improved to where they could use it. That’s what led to his being invited to be the acoustical consultant on Boston Symphony Hall. Happily, today Boston Symphony Hall is judged to be one of the best concert halls in the world. The reason that the complaints arose was that traveling orchestras and conductors from Europe were used to playing in 1,500 seat halls. When they came into a 2,600 seat hall, the music didn’t sound as loud, it sounded thin. The orchestras of that day had about 90 pieces, whereas now they have about 105. With today’s larger orchestras and their experience in playing in larger halls, Boston Symphony Hall is now judged to be one of the best in the world. Certainly for its size it is the best. Finally, I published a paper — which is definitive — on all of Sabine’s research work and the years in which it was done. I opined that the four year period in which he did nothing had to be due to one of several things. One was that he was depressed, second was that he had thrown himself into his teaching at the university.
Lang:He was Professor of Physics?
Beranek:Yes, Assistant Professor. Another reason was in that period he got married and had two children, and combining that with his teaching work and with his disappointment with Symphony Hall, he was through with acoustics at least temporarily. It turns out that it was probably a combination of everything. Then came a new surprise. I got another call a year or so later from the IIT saying they had found other Sabine materials. This time it was all of his consulting papers and letters. They were in a different closet. I again asked for them and they said “No, we aren’t going to give them to you or Harvard, we are going to keep them in our own museum, but we will send you copies. This time you aren’t going to publish them alone, we want you to do it jointly with John Kopek.” So Kopek and I published a paper jointly. He put a lot of effort into studying and assembling the papers and I was very happy to work with him. He is an excellent young fellow. He summarized the mass of material in a very effective manner. My primary contribution then was to take his work and bring it into proper perspective with Sabine’s published papers.
Lang:How did Sabine’s notebooks and consulting papers end up in Chicago?
Beranek:That is a good story. When Sabine died in January 1919, a problem arose. He had come into contact in the previous years with a Colonel Fabian who came from a textile family that was headquartered in Boston with a branch plant in Chicago. During World War I, Fabian had formed a laboratory to decode German military communications. In one communication, the Germans described a machine that they said would do levitation acoustically. This was a complicated device that acoustically would suspend things in the air. Fabian had it built, but it didn’t work. Fabian had a brother who was an M.D. at the Harvard Medical School. The brother, at Fabian’s request, inquired of the Physics Department, who said “Sure we’ve got a young fellow here — an assistant professor — who knows all about acoustics.” Why doesn’t your brother come and see Sabine, which is what happened. Fabian came to see Sabine. First of all Sabine explained to him why the device wouldn’t work and said it never could be made to work. That pleased Fabian because he got a logical answer. Secondly, Sabine told him about his acoustical reverberation tests of acoustical materials in the Physics Laboratory. Because there were no microphones he had to use his ears. He said he had to do all the testing between the time the subway system ceased operating after 1:00 a.m. and the time they started again in the morning — which was about three hours a night. He had always to make his experiments between 1:00 and 4:00 am… Fabian said “I’ll tell you what — I’ll build you a laboratory out in Geneva, Illinois next to my home. I own a large acreage there and it is so quiet that only grasshoppers make noise. I’ll build a research building exactly the way you want it and it can be the finest acoustical testing laboratory in the world. It will be called the Wallace Clement Sabine Laboratory.” We don’t know whether Sabine consented to go there to work or not. From the biography it was certainly true that Fabian thought he was going to move out there. But I am pretty sure that his intention was to put an ex-student — a graduate student after working with him — out there full time and Sabine would manage things from Cambridge and, perhaps, come out in the summer when he was not teaching. I am sure that his family — his wife — would not have allowed him to move away from Cambridge. His wife had a medical practice. She was an M.D. and a good one — one of the early women M.D.s in this city. The laboratory was built and finished in the fall of 1918 and it was named after him, but he died in January 1919. Fabian now had a problem. He had a laboratory building and nobody to use it. So he came East and talked with the physics department. I think Professor Trowbridge was chairman then and Trowbridge said to him “Well, there is a young fellow whose name is Paul Sabine who got his doctorate under Professor Lyman in spectroscopy.” Lyman told Fabian, “He went to Washington during the war and worked in one of the U.S. Navy laboratories. It is our information that he is looking for a job. He has a doctorate in physics. Why don’t you go talk to him.” So Fabian got together with Paul Sabine.
Lang:Was Paul related to Wallace Clement Sabine?
Beranek:They were distant cousins. Paul Sabine had done no work in acoustics and Fabian pleaded with him to come and run his laboratory. Fabian probably said “After all, all the scientific knowledge on acoustics is what Sabine developed. Sabine has published papers and from your background in physics, you can learn all that he knew in a fairly short time. You can then contribute in a field that is largely unplowed.” So Paul Sabine accepted the challenge of moving out to Geneva, Illinois and running the Sabine Laboratory, now called the Riverbank Laboratory. Now what I think happened — and there is various evidence of this — is that Paul said “Gee I would like to have Sabine’s notebooks and papers.” He went to the Physics Laboratories, but he didn’t go to Lyman because he was pretty sure he wouldn’t get the notebooks and papers. He went to Sabine’s research assistant instead.
Lang:Who was that?
Beranek:His name was John Connors. He was just a hired technician in the physics department; not a candidate for a degree. That assistant, I am sure, said “Why don’t you take his notebooks and papers — they won’t be of value to any of the rest of us. I am not going to carry on the work because I don’t have a physics background — I’m only a technician” — mainly a shop technician. Also the organ pipes that Wallace Sabine planned to use as a source of sound in Riverbank Laboratory were already in Cambridge being tested by Sabine and this laboratory assistant. The results of the early tests are in a notebook. None of this was published. I am sure Paul Sabine had a good argument as to why he needed those notebooks. He needed them even for that late work on the organ pipes. So he took them out to Illinois. When Lyman’s book The Collected Papers came out in which he had written all had been burned, this threw Paul Sabine into a quandary.
Lang:Lyman’s book would have been published in the early 1920s?
Beranek:I think it was 1931. Paul Sabine had all the papers and notebooks and here is Lyman saying they had all been burned! Paul Sabine had never asked Lyman for them and Lyman was the person he should have asked, particularly since Paul got his doctorate under Lyman. Paul was so embarrassed by this that I presume he stuck them in the back of two closets and let them lie in the dust for a half-century.
Lang:When did Paul Sabine die, roughly?
Beranek:He died about 1951 or 1952. To continue, Kopek and I wrote a second paper which was on Sabine’s consulting work. I still had no access to his personal papers. I checked through Radcliffe, his daughter had gone there and it’s written up in the Orcutt biography. Her name was Janet and she married a man whose last name was Ley — i.e., she was Janet Ley. Wallace Sabine had two daughters — one died before he died. Janet Ley lived in Connecticut according to Radcliffe’s records. I wrote to the last address they had and the letter came back "no such person." I made it known around Symphony Hall to various people who had known Wallace Clement Sabine in his late years or who had known his daughter, that I wanted to contact his daughter. I found that there were several people who had known his daughter. I told them I was interested in Sabine’s personal papers. The Boston Symphony has a television program each March, a telethon, to raise money. The program went out not only over the air but on the cables in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I received a phone call from one of the symphony people who had known Wallace Sabine’s secretary, and she said “Say, I was riding home in my car — this program was simulcast on a local radio station (WCRB) and it was said on the air that they had just received a donation of $100 from a woman (and they gave a name) in western Massachusetts who stated she was the granddaughter of the man who was the acoustical consultant for Symphony Hall.” I immediately dreamed of learning what happened in Wallace Sabine’s life between 1900 and 1904.
Lang:Did you locate the donor?
Beranek:I went to Symphony Hall and asked if they could find the name and address of the granddaughter. They said “Look, when the telephone operators hand us a pledge, we make up a bill on the typewriter and throw the original slip into a bin. We’ve got thousands of these slips and there’s no way we could sort them out for you in any reasonable length of time. What we do is in the summer when we have some spare time we go through them and pick out addresses that we can add to our mailing lists.” A week later I got a call from Symphony Hall. The person I had spoken to said she had stuck her hand into the big bin of slips and had, by accident, pulled out the slip I wanted. The name was Janet Ley. I now had the address and phone number, and I called Janet Ley and said I had this note that she was Wallace Sabine’s granddaughter. I told her of the two papers that I’d written and that I would send her copies. I wondered if she had any of Wallace Clement Sabine’s personal papers and she said she did. So I made a date to go see Janet Ley. I got there and was introduced to her husband, whose name was Ley, and I said “Now I have a problem, your mother’s name was Janet Ley and her husband’s name was Ley. Now, you’re married to a husband named Ley. How can this be?” She said “well, my husband changed his name when he married me.” So, we had two Janet Ley’s. I spent a day going over the personal papers of Wallace Sabine. They did not reveal anything that was not in the Orcutt biography. The biographer had worked from those papers, as they were his only source material. I asked Janet Ley if she could say anything about the missing four years. She said “yes, I can. My mother’s talked about this a number of times.” She said there were two things in her opinion; one was that he had to get back to teaching and he got very active and very excited about his teaching activities and he was made Dean a short time later. Second, he got married right after Symphony Hall was opened and he had two daughters in the next couple of years. He was so busy that he had no time for acoustics, so he did no more work in that four year period and it wasn’t until later that he started doing acoustics again. I then said “How did he feel about these negative reports from the hall that came out later?” She said her mother never mentioned that to her, so she doesn’t know how Sabine felt about the negative reports. All I found was in his consulting papers, that he had a copy of the Apthorp Review, which said how bad Symphony Hall was. Sabine certainly knew about it. The final bit is that just a year ago, a young woman who is doing a doctoral thesis at Yale University went to New York and visited the architect’s office that is the survivor of the McKim, Mead and White firm that designed Symphony Hall architecturally. She found a letter that Sabine wrote to the architect in which he is responding to these criticisms. I have not published that material yet — I should — saying now we know that he knew about the complaints. In his letter he gives a very strong argument that he thinks the complaints are unjustified, which history has shown is true.
Lang:Fascinating story. What I would like to do now, Leo, is shift from Sabine to more modern times and perhaps review the start of your business involvement in the broadcasting and television industry and ask you how that came about and to describe how you became interested in television, particularly in the role, to start with, that the Boston Herald played in this whole very, very interesting period and what you and your associates created from what the Boston Herald had at that time. I know very little about the subject because I was not living in Boston at the time. I think you can bring me up to date on how this whole fascinating thing came about.
Beranek:I was president of Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc. (BBN) until 1969, after that for two years I was “Chief Scientist,” and the story I am going to tell you starts in 1962. In 1962 at BBN I had working for me, as vice president, Jordan Baruch who also received the first doctoral thesis that I supervised at MIT. Jordan was a senior man at BBN. He could have had his name in the firm if we had decided to add more names — we decided to stop at three. There were five of us who really made Bolt Beranek and Newman; the other was Samuel Labate. Jordan came to me and said “I’ve been approached by a lawyer downtown named Matthew Brown in a firm called Brown, Rudnik, Freed and Gesmer, to join them in applying for a license to operate channel 5 television station in Boston” — the approach to him was made toward the end of November, in 1962. “Would you be interested in joining us?” I asked what it would cost and they said I would probably have to put up $300,000 — it’s expensive to go after these licenses. Joining them would take about all the money I had ever saved. I decided that maybe it was worth the gamble because a television station would be something very interesting, particularly if the group wants to do a good job, make better programming, and provide a better service to the community. The result of this was that I did join the group. In 1963 – in January — a group which had about ten people who put up most of the money plus about twenty more who brought diversity to the group. They could afford lesser amounts of stock, but if you wanted to make a good application you had to have a mixture of professionals, business persons, and some blacks —
Lang:Even in those days?
Beranek:Oh yes. So we got the proper kind of group together —businessmen, lawyers, professors, doctors and a couple of citizens at large. In January 1963 we incorporated. I went skiing every January with my family in Switzerland. When I was gone the group met and asked the question — whose going to be president? Somebody said “Let’s make Leo president because he has management experience at BBN” so when I came back I found out I was to be named President in the application for operating channel 5. I was told “If we get the station, we’ll solve who’s going to be president.”
Lang:Was this a formally incorporated company at this time?
Beranek:It was formal. Boston Broadcasters Incorporated. It became known as BBI. We worked during a good part of 1963 putting together the application. An application is a very detailed document. First of all, we had to go into the community and make very extensive interviews to find out what people thought of the present television stations in Boston, what they’d like to see television do. We made up a program schedule with ideas on what our original programs would be, on how much local programming we would do, and on how much news we would carry. Our plans were novel for that time. We stated that we were going to have an all-color station — none of the stations had color television and color was just starting to come in then, and we promised to do more hours of local programming than any other TV station. Then the hearings before an FCC appointed judge lasted one year (1964-1965). There were four contestants. There was ourselves. There was a group under Tom Cabot, one of the wealthiest men in Boston. A third was WHDH. I’ll say a little about WHDH, the call letters of the then existing channel 5. The fourth was a Catholic group. Why were they permitting new applicants? They discovered in 1962 that it looked as though WHDH had put on the fix, as they kept putting it — i.e., a bribe to the Chairman of the FCC to get their license. His name was McConnaughy.
Lang:WHDH was owned by the Boston Herald?
Beranek:Owned by the Boston Herald Traveler Corporation. They published two newspapers daily. The Herald was the morning paper and the Traveler was the evening paper.
Lang:WHDH was also a radio station?
Beranek:Yes, they operated both a radio station and a TV station with the same name. The radio station is going to this day as WHDH. And, just recently, Channel 7 has taken the call letters WHDH. Because of this supposed fix they never traced the money — they decided they were going to allow WHDH to run again for the license, and also allow other applicants. WHDH had to go after it anew and act as though they weren’t already operating the station.
Lang:How often are licenses renewed? For a ten or five-year period?
Beranek:Normally three years. Nobody had ever lost a license up to that time. The licenses were actually in perpetuity if you did your job. In the case of new applications the FCC would appoint a hearing judge who would hold hearings and would recommend to the FCC who was best suited. His recommendations would go to the Federal Communications Commission and it would vote finally on who gets the license. The FCC doesn’t have to agree with what the hearing officer recommends. So we spent one year in the hearings.
Lang:That must be 1965.
Beranek:Yes, 1965 in these hearings. Along about 1966, after the hearings, the judge (Herbert Sharfman) made a decision. This had become the oldest comparative hearing case in the Federal Communications Commission’s history. He recommended on August 22, 1966 that WHDH be allowed to continue operating on the channel it had occupied since 1957. In other words, he ruled in favor of WHDH. That is my first thing in the scrapbook. But the FCC did not follow that recommendation. They decided to award a construction permit, under date of January 24, 1969 to a new "Boston group called Boston Broadcasters Incorporated." A construction permit is the first step toward getting a license. There were some very strange things about that decision, which the Herald Traveler complained about and tried to get changed. For one thing, only three members of the seven-member commission actually voted — and it was a 2-1 decision in our favor. Since the commission normally had to have four votes, the Herald Traveler tried to argue that this was an improper decision. The FCC said that three had recused themselves because they had been involved in the original WHDH decision, thus a quorum of four was present; one abstained and three voted. The FCC decided they were going to give the station to us because they said we promised to do something novel and different. Among other things, we had produced a little blue book showing all we were going to do. The men on the Board were listed as Beranek, president, the chairman of the board was Judge Matthew Brown, and there was an executive vice president, Nathan David, also a lawyer. The treasurer was William Poorvu who was a Boston realtor and an urban planning person; the clerk was Josh Guberman, a lawyer. We had hired a former general manager of the educational TV station in Philadelphia named Richard Burdick to be our general manager if we got the license. Then there were various stockholders who made up the broad range of people that I spoke about earlier. Then I have a copy of the newspapers and you’ll find things that say “Boston Broadcasters” Beranek is appalled by the quality of US T.V.’ and that I was head of the takeover group. This appeared in Newsweek, in the New York Times and there were several articles in Newsweek trying to say what kind of operation we were. They likened us to David and Goliath — we were David pitching stones against the big Goliath of the Herald Traveler with all their experience and money. There was a statement in this decision that the FCC didn’t want the same corporation to own both a television station and a newspaper in the same city. That was part of the reason that the FCC decided to give us the license. In back of it all was the feeling that there had been a fix —that the FCC chairman had been bribed. The Herald Traveler, of course, took this to court and said the decision was improper and that they had been running a good station — that there was no reason to take the license away; and it was never proved that there was an exchange of money. The case went to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. A three judge panel ruled 3-0 in our favor. Then the Herald Traveler asked for all nine judges in all the D.C. Courts of Appeals to review the decision. They got together and ruled in our favor. Then WHDH appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court refused to take the case. They denied "cert" as they called it. We, therefore, were granted the channel. However, all was not over. The Herald Traveler then decided they were going to try to get us on some kind of lack of proper moral character. So, they put private detectives on the tail of every one of us and tapped all our telephones. They found that one of our lawyers, who was the Executive Vice President, had been involved in a financial deal that was against Massachusetts law. The deal was that he had arranged for two men to buy stock privately from a company — a high tech company — at a price less than the market price and he had charged them $1.00/share as his legal fee. If he had just requested a legal fee it would have been no problem but when he made it $1.00/share he made himself a broker and he did not have a broker’s license in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This is a criminal offense. So WHDH brought up the fact that he had violated the laws of Massachusetts and therefore the group was unfit to receive a license. The case went back to the Federal Communications Commission again and the Commission was all ready to take the grant away from us. I got word through a gossip item in a broadcast newsletter that this was about to happen. My information came on a Friday and the Commission met the next Wednesday. I called our lawyers in Washington. They worked like mad all weekend to enter a plea that they hoped would get us out of trouble. The way they got us out of this bind was to have the lawyer resign from the Vice Presidency and the Board and to agree that he would never vote his stock and that he would have no part in the running of the station. Therefore, if he was judged in court to be criminally at fault he would not be a part of the operation of the station. That plea was brought before the FCC and they gave us the construction permit for the second time. The Herald Traveler then took this case before the U.S. Appeals Court for D.C. and we won again. Then they took it to the United States Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court —
Lang:For the second time?
Beranek:For the second time the Supreme Court denied "cert." It now looked as though we were going ahead. But with all their tails on our stockholders they found another one had done something wrong! There was a rule of the FCC that says you cannot sell your stock or transfer it while a case is pending like this. What our stockholder did was to set up a little company to publish books and he had put his stock into that little company. Even though it was his company, they claimed that was a change of ownership. So, he had violated the law and the whole process started over again. We had the station ready to go on the air in September and they brought this case up just before that time. I had two hundred people hired! We were spending a lot of money each month on salaries. The FCC said “No you cannot turn on your station until this problem is resolved.” They then ruled against us this time around. We appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals and we won again. Now the FCC said "We have to give up on this and grant BBI permission to go on air.” The FCC set the on-air date at March 18, 1972.
Lang:What would be the date of that court decision?
Beranek:The date of the D.C. Appeals Court decision came in the week after Christmas in 1971. WHDH then took the case to the Supreme Court for the third time. We figured the Supreme Court would go along with us. But the United States Supreme Court did not act immediately and that brings up a lot of drama. To review, the FCC came out in January of 1972 and said we could go on the air, and we were given the right to use our channel name — which was WCVB-TV — and gave us the starting date of March 18.
Beranek:1972. So we now were ready to go on the air. We had our station built, our staff was there, our expenses were running at a rate of about $300,000/month. I went out and raised $1m from our existing group of, by now, 30 stockholders. I raised $1m dollars to pay the $300,000/month to keep us from going into bankruptcy. In August 1971 Broadcasting Magazine — which was the leading magazine — had an article about our station and where it was built (I am showing you a picture here). The article was called "Those High Stakes Rollers in Boston — it’s all or nothing at all as incumbent WHDH and the construction permit holder WCVB both act like winners." Broadcasting Magazine also talked with the president of the Herald Traveler and showed him in an expensive hotel room in Washington and me in my office — which didn’t have any furniture yet. There was a folding chair and a folding table and a stepladder with my telephone on it. They compared the two operations at that point stating that our station was fully built. The next clipping I am showing you — it was a long article in Broadcasting — showed the general manager, Robert Bennett, whom I’d hired. He was the best broadcast manager in the United States. It showed me and the previous general manager, now the programming manger, who was going to work with him, and the final touches to the construction, getting it ready to go on the air. This article must have had some influence on the court decisions. We were supposed to go on the air at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, March 19, 1972. Friday, March 12, came and went and the Supreme Court had not yet acted. Now the question was could we go on the air? The FCC had given us the date and time, but without the Supreme Court action did we have to sit idly by and not go on the air? Or, if we did go on the air and the Supreme Court acted against us, what would happen after that to our investment? Could the Herald Traveler continue to operate and we would lose everything? We decided we really couldn’t go on the air unless the Supreme Court acted. I had a full staff. We expected the opinion to be given on Monday, March 15 of that week but the Supreme Court had not acted. Then the Court was going to meet on Wednesday, but again they didn’t act. Furthermore, Friday, March 17 was the last day they’d be in session before we were supposed to go on the air so it was the last chance we had of meeting our deadline. We talked to our lawyers and the lawyers said that normally the Supreme Court announced its decisions on Friday at noon. I told our staff — senior officers and general managers and others — which we’d get together at my office about 11:00 a.m., we’d have lunch brought in about 12:00, and we would wait for the decision. At 11:00 they all showed up. Then noon went by and no decision, so we ate our lunch. At 1:00 p.m. I called our lawyers in Washington and asked what was happening. They said they didn’t know. They had been calling over to the Supreme Court and the Clerk of the Court was the only one they could talk to. He said no decision had been made. He said “just hold on”— they are still apparently in session. At 2:00 p.m., still no decision; at 3:00 p.m. I called our lawyers again and they said the Clerk had told them to quit bothering him; the clerk said if they didn’t stop calling he would get angry. The clerk said he didn’t know what was happening and that there apparently was no decision. One of our lawyers called me at 4:00 p.m. and said “I just got a call from the clerk and he said they want our weekend phone numbers.” I asked what that meant, because the court didn’t meet on weekends. The lawyer said he didn’t know what it meant. He’d never heard of anything like it before. I said “What do we do?” He told me to sit tight, give him my phone number, and we’d see what happened. He would try to get clarification from the Clerk about what the phone numbers meant. At 5:00 p.m. he called and said the Supreme Court had not acted; it had adjourned and there was no sign of action on our case. My staff was completely depressed and all left for home. Fifteen minutes later, sitting alone in my office, the telephone rang and it was our lawyer. He said the court had acted and they had ruled in our favor. Then I had nobody with me! There were people around in the building hoping that we might go on air but most of them had been told by my people — going out the door to go on home because nothing was going to happen until we got those phone calls on the weekend and that we didn’t know what it meant. I went running down the corridor, shouting, "We are on the air! We are on the air!" I tried to call my staff, but they were all in their cars driving home. I got their wives and I told them we had just been awarded the license to go on the air at 3:00 a.m. Sunday — “Tell your husbands to get back here as soon as possible.” It wasn’t more than an hour or so until everybody was back — Soon all the station personnel arrived — warming up the cameras and preparing practice sessions for going on the air — making sure everything was working right. Then of course the newspapers came and we had TV cameras from the other stations all over the place. Some remarkable pictures came out of this whole thing — here’s one for example, showing me in the control room with all the TV screens illuminated. The Saturday newspapers said everybody in Boston who was anybody had been involved in this case because there were three other applicants. We were all pictured — including Tom Cabot, probably the wealthiest man in Boston at the time. You can see, here is another article showing all the principals of BBI, now WCVB-TV.
Lang:Where did Jordan fit into all of this at the time?
Beranek:Jordan Baruch was one of the stockholders. We went on the air at 3:00 a.m. March 19, 1972. There were articles that came up in the weeks following about the tangled history of channel 5. One was written in the Phoenix newspaper locally which shows a picture of me as President. Then we started running our own ads stating how we were going to be a different television station — full page ads about channel 5; we say “We want what you want — good television.” We went on the air at 3:00 in the morning on that date. We preceded the event by having a midnight dinner at a nearby hotel, in which there were very subdued speeches. No one cheered. We just spoke about the long history and how we hoped we would do a good job for the community. Matthew Brown — the chairman — and I were the two people who first spoke at 3:00 a.m. on the air and told how we wanted this to be one of the nation’s finest stations.
Lang:You had your own transmitter totally separate so when WHDH went off the air at 2:59 [actually at 1:00 a.m.] you were able to start up independently?
Beranek:That’s right. The reason was they would not sell us or give us the right to use any of their equipment. They thought that if they made us buy everything we would go bankrupt; that we didn’t have the money to do it. They were almost right. If this case had gone on another six months we would have been bankrupt. I would have lost everything. I even had my house, car and insurance policies in hock. The thing worked out that we did go the air. I finish this story by saying that in 1980 the New York Times carried nearly a full-page article in which it said that WCVB, Boston, was probably the best television station in the United States. We had done all the local programming we had promised; we had the best newscast; more people were watching our news at 11:00 p.m. than the other two network stations combined (we were affiliated with ABC). We were considered the best station in Boston on which to advertise. We were used as a model throughout the nation as to what good television should be. We had succeeded in our primary goal. Let’s return briefly to BBN during this time. When the Federal Communications Commission first granted us a construction permit in 1969, the BBI stockholders put pressure on me to start work as president. In fact, they said if I backed out of being president they might lose the license because it might look as though the group was falling apart. It wasn’t as clean a deal as we thought it would be — there was all this scrapping. I had to consent to be president and then the Board of BBN said I had to resign the presidency of BBN. They made me chief scientist. So I stayed chief scientist until 1971 and in July of 1971 I severed all connections with BBN and became full-time president of BBI. I stayed president until about 1980 and then we had a retirement rule that if you were more than 65 you couldn’t be president.
Lang:That was put into your by-laws?
Lang:That was sort of ahead of time, I would say.
Beranek:Yes. It would have been 1979 that I had to cease being president; in September. I became chairman of the board when Matthew Brown retired as chairman of the board at age 75. Bob Bennett, who was my general manager, became the president until we sold the station in 1982 to Metro Media. The reason for selling the station was that everybody was getting old. I was one of the younger members of that group. The problem was that if they started dying, who would buy their stock—none of us were rich? The station was worth a lot of money and so was their stock. We finally decided to solve this problem by selling, and paying off the stock holders because we didn’t know otherwise how to handle things in case the oldest stock holders started dying.
Lang:Your getting the license also led to the dissolution of the Boston Herald Traveler and I assume that Mr. Cabot was also —
Beranek:He was irritated. For him that was nothing, a small amount of money.
Lang:But it actually was the end of the Boston Herald Traveler?
Lang:The Herald Traveler Corporation failed because the TV station was their —
Beranek:— Source of income.
Lang:The newspaper was a loss item.
Beranek:Yes. So they closed down the newspaper a few months after we went on the air and they sold what was left of it to what is now the Boston Herald, which is owned by Hearst. They stopped printing the afternoon paper so now it’s just called the Herald.
Lang:That is a fascinating story of major excitement. We now move into the history that involved your directorship of the Wang Computer Company. This would bring us into the period of the early 1980s.
Beranek:1980 actually. Remember, in 1979 — practically at the end of the year; September — I ceased being president of channel 5 so now I had a little time available. The Wang connection happened kind of by accident. I was invited to a dinner given by Babson College, at which they were trying to get businessmen interested in the university for fund raising purposes.
Lang:Not one of the big universities?
Beranek:No. It is really only a business school. At the dinner table where I was seated were some other company presidents and one of those was An Wang. An Wang and I had been at Harvard together where we both received our doctorates. He took one course from me. I was a few years ahead of him. He’d come from Shanghai to do his graduate work at Harvard. He’d gotten his bachelor’s in Shanghai.
Lang:This was not a course in acoustics?
Beranek:No, I was teaching electronics. One of the professors — Leon Chaffee — had trouble with his eyes and he had to be in the hospital for a while so I taught one semester of his courses on electric circuitry and another on vacuum tubes. I think Wang probably took one of those courses. I don’t think he took acoustics. But we were sitting together at the table and he says “Leo, how would you like to be on my board of directors?” I said I would really enjoy that. I had just ceased being president of channel 5 — I think it was just a few days after that, as a matter of fact. I had the time and the experience of working with companies that used computers and BBN was deeply in software development. BBN invented time sharing and packet switching under my presidency and I knew all the large computers of that time, as well as Digital’s mini-computers. I had, of course, experience being chief executive officer both of BBN and channel 5. I knew the media — a lot of things that I knew might be helpful to him. So we agreed that I would join the board in September, 1980. Wang at that time was growing at the rate of about 33%/year compounded. Its sales exceeded $1 billion in a couple more years. The offer looked like a lot of excitement and a chance to do something useful. Indeed, he asked me if I would be a consultant in addition for at least three days a week. So I was given the job of assembling their first wide area network which Wang used to connect together all their offices throughout the United States. We used packet switching for doing that. We bought the components of packet switching from BBN. They had the processors and so on, that connect the computers to the X25 network. I managed a group at Wang to do this and had quite a lot of excitement and experience. At the end of 1984 — the sales of all computer companies came almost to a halt! Wang was one of them. They, of course had been growing up to that time; were continually building buildings and hiring more people and so they had more people than they needed. This also presaged some other difficulties that they had not anticipated, that IBM’s PC was going to be setting the pace for the future instead of old-style workstations. Wang did not have a workstation with memory in it like the hard disk in the PCs. Wang was not ready for this new era with the different kind of workstation. Also they had not done anything to be interconnectable with other people’s equipment. They were doing everything proprietary. Then all of a sudden it became apparent, if you had PCs, that you would want to interconnect your PCs — regardless of who made them. You could do that with IBM equipment but you couldn’t do it with Wang. So they were behind the times. The result was they did not lose sales but they didn’t increase anymore. Now, recently, they’ve had troubles even keeping their sales up so they’ve been letting people go. It was a very interesting period because I was active in a big computer company. I got to see a big organization at work. I was also on the Board of Directors. I also got to see how things looked both as an employee and a consultant.
Lang:Were you an employee or a consultant?
Beranek:Officially, a consultant. However, I was acting like an employee. I was running a project. I was also on the Board of Directors and I knew the company very well inside and out. I could see some of the problems developing that later became serious, but there wasn’t much you could do about them because of decisions that had been made along the way. Wang just didn’t appreciate that their mini-computers would be replaced by PCs and that big computers were going to be lower in price, actually to come down to the price of some mini-computers. Wang’s products got squeezed in the middle. These things one could see coming but nobody knew what to do about them on short notice. It takes the chief executive officer and the research staff to know what to do. You can’t do it from the Board of Directors. But, I did have a very good time there. They did a lot of things during this big growth period to keep their sales forces going. They had big sales meetings in different cities like Honolulu and Rome and London. They would bring the Board of Directors to those places too and we’d share in the excitement of increasing sales. Then it became apparent to me that Wang was never going to catch up. Along about 1986 I decided to resign as a member of the Board of Directors and as a consultant because I wanted to do some more writing. I wanted to bring my books up to date. I didn’t need the money they were paying me. I felt that the fun had gone out of Wang and I told Dr. Wang that both because of my age and because I had other interests I ought to leave. He said “Fine.”
Lang:They have had a few problems since you left.
Beranek:Their stock had gone way down.
Lang:Dr. Wang’s health isn’t —
Beranek:Yes, he got cancer of the esophagus and I guess he’s being fed through his stomach — there’s a hole in his stomach. [He died in 1990]. His son was made president and now they’ve relieved him. They have a new president there. The company is trying to struggle with inefficiencies in operation that should have been straightened out before now. This new president is going to let more people go — he says in the newspaper — as the efficiency of the present staff is increased.
Lang:I think you saw the "handwriting on the wall."
Beranek:Well, not in the sense that I thought the company was going to end up as bad as it has. I figured they might be able to work themselves out of this but it was clear to me that they were being squeezed from the two sides — the PC on one side and the big computers getting to be like what was called the mini computers as far as price was concerned — and they had no new product.
Lang:I don’t think any of the computer problems are over yet.
Beranek:Now it’s a big fight between the PC and the main frame.
Lang:Yes. As Yogi Bera says “it ain’t over till it’s over’ and it ain’t over!
Beranek:So that’s my Wang story.
Lang:Leo, is there anything not in your professional life that you view with great pride and that you would like to discuss briefly now?
Beranek:There are two things. One is that I did pass the Swiss ski instructor’s examination in Switzerland when I was 43 years old and this was a great day for me because I didn’t think I skied well enough to pass the exam. I hired a ski instructor in Wengen, Switzerland. He went out with me for one day and he concluded that I was good enough to go for the highest test they gave, which is the gold medal test and is equivalent to the ski instructor’s test. He said “Why don’t you try for this?” Against my better judgment I took the test. The most exciting part for me was when we took the train to the base of the Eiger mountain and then climbed for an hour to get really out in the open. Below me was a fresh snowfall about 2 to 3’ deep. No one, of course, had skied in it. We were standing above hundreds of acres of open ski area, and it was a long ways down and steep. I should preface that I had spent a month the year before skiing at Alta, Utah and had asked the instructors to concentrate on teaching me to ski in deep snow. Alta always has deep snow; one day it snowed 56 inches. The Swiss very seldom have 3’ of powder snow. Their snow is generally rather heavy by comparison to what one gets at Alta and what was at the Eiger this day. This kind of snow looked familiar to me. It was the first item on the test. There were many items. I took off after he said “ski it” — alone down the mountain and everything worked! It was sunny day and I threw up beautiful plumes of snow behind me as I went down. My lessons at Alta were just right; every move was right and I pulled up at the bottom and he pulled up behind me. He said (believe it or not) “there aren’t twelve people in Switzerland who can ski that well in deep snow.” That was my happiest day! There were many other parts to the test. I had to follow him through bumps and ruts and around corners at high speeds to make sure that I knew how to ski every which way. There was a speed test from the top to the bottom of Kleine Scheidegg. I screwed down my safety bindings and said “I’m going to go down that mountain faster than I’ve ever skied before’ and I did, and passed the speed test. I got my gold medal. The only other thing that was exciting was being part of the Boston Symphony Organization. I was named Chairman of Resources and acted as co-fund raiser along with a woman named Jane Bradley. Our goal was to raise $15.7 million new endowment money. We actually raised $20.5 million. To work with the community and a great symphony like that — and I would later make chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — was my second greatest experience.
Lang:I want to thank you Leo for all this material. I wonder if you would be kind enough perhaps to read the permission here, so it can be on the tape. I believe the AIP would appreciate having the permission granted.
Beranek:I am giving the American Institute of Physics an open permission on the written material.
Session I | Session II