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"Collector's Voice" Newsletter


Vol. 5. No. 1. January, 2000
Published by Gary Stork four times a year (January, April, July, and October).


Let me first update you on what is going on in the world of V-M Audio Enthusiasts. I am slowly getting it organized and stocked with needles and tubes - two items sold separately at V-M’s bankruptcy auction in 1979, and therefore, items that I did not purchase from V-M in the fall of 1998. I hope by the next issue to announce progress on my attempts to get phonograph idler wheels and AC switches remade. This mission has become even more critical with the sad news of the passing of Steve Karpiak of West Tech Services. Steve was extremely knowledgeable and helped a great number of people out. There aren’t that many sources for knowledge and parts in the phono world. Steve will definitely be missed!

Another important project is our new website. The URL is Sometime in the near future, you should see a website pop up at that address!

Interview with Fred Born

I met Fred Born through Dick Weber, who used to work for Fred. I called him up, we chatted, and I went to visit. Fred welcomed me into his home, and we talked all about what Fred knows best - that famous V-M quality. For the greatest portion of his career, Fred was Quality Control Manager. Read this incredibly detailed account of record changer manufacture and how he kept a sharp eye on all the goings on in V-M’s factories ….

V-MCV: Tell us how you got started working for V-M Corporation.

Mr. Born: After three and a half years in the army, I went to University of Illinois and graduated in 1948 with a degree in industrial management. I worked four years for U.S. Rubber (now Uniroyal) in Mishawaka, Indiana. I really wanted to go to work for Heath. I had built many Heathkits and enjoyed it. I did interview at Heath, but nothing became of it. One day I saw an ad in the paper for an Industrial Engineer at V-M. Some of the engineers at U.S. Rubber were looking for a job, so I told them I would go check it out and see if it was any good.

I interviewed with Arnold Faulkner, the head of Industrial Engineering (who had one Industrial Engineer working for him at that time). I went back to Mishawaka and said, "There’s a job available if you want it". Next week one of the Industrial Engineers went and interviewed at V-M. When he came back, I asked him "Did you take the job?". He replied, "The job’s already filled - they hired you!". Immediately, I knew my salary went up, because we had not yet discussed wages. Two days later, I got a call. We discussed wages and I took the job. That was in September of 1952.

I was an Industrial Engineer for about 8 months, and then became Foreman of Final Inspection on record changers. That job lasted less than a year, and then they made me Quality Control Manager. For 19 years until I left V-M in 1973.

V-MCV: You mentioned a story about Walter Miller and how the famous V-M changer mechanism came to be?

Mr. Born: Walter Miller was himself a brilliant engineer. The story goes that he told Don Morrison and the rest of the engineers, "I want a record changer mechanism that can be designed and built with no adjustment during manufacture." In those days, record changer mechanisms were a mess of adjustments, cables, levers, etc. that you couldn’t just throw together in the plant without some labor intensive tinkering. So the engineers went to work. Ultimately, they built 5 changers, and called Walter Miller up. Walter saw the 5 changers cycling records and working just fine. He instructed the engineers to take the 5 changers apart and make 5 piles of parts. They did this and called him back in. Walter took the 5 piles and shuffled them around. Reportedly, he then said "Now make me 5 changers. This time I’ll watch.". They assembled the 5 changers and not a single one of them worked! Walter taught them a valuable lesson: "See, you didn’t design into the changer the tolerances you have to have for random assembly!". Of course, the rest is history, because the engineers went back and eventually succeeded brilliantly. There were no adjustments on the "works assembly", which includes the spindle, and is the heart of an automatic record changer.

There were five relatively simple and easy to do adjustments on a completed changer in the plant. 1. Needle pressure was set on the tonearm line due to different make cartridges and variability in tonearm mass in the same style tonearm. 2. Stylus set down due to different cartridge designs and different tonearm configurations such as straight, bent, or offset. The tolerance buildup in the locator, shaft, hinge, and tonearm length also were factors. If the 7" record stylus set down was adjusted properly, then the right 10 and 12 inch landing was achieved automatically. 3. Tonearm height at cartridge end due to different cartridge designs, stylus lengths, tonearm thickness and some tolerance buildup. 4. Record hold down arm position was adjusted by bending the arm to hold the record stack horizontal on the spindle shelf for correct clearance between the turntable and bottom record on the shelf. If the record was horizontal, the automatic shutoff was correct. And 5. The idler tire position in relation to the steps on the motor shaft. This was checked by production using a turntable with large cutouts so the idler position could be observed while driving a turntable.

V-MCV: The V-M changer has a very good reputation for reliability as well.

Mr. Born: It was what I would call an idiot proof mechanism. At any point in the change cycle, you could move the tone arm side-to-side without damaging the mechanism. Similarly, a record jam could occur without damaging the changer. We had a standard life test - every changer design had to meet a minimum of 250,000 change cycles. In Quality Control, we kept 25 changers running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

V-MCV: Your job responsibilities must have increased rapidly as V-M grew.

Mr. Born: They did. When I came to V-M in 1952, we had about 400 employees. We grew at a phenomenal rate. to about 1635 employees. I remember our two biggest years were 1963 and 1964. During those years, we had as many employees as Whirlpool, I do believe. On one shift, we built 2 changers per minute on each of 6 changer lines, for a total of 12 changers per minute! That’s thousands of parts flowing into the lines - we couldn’t have many mistakes, or everything would come grinding to a halt! Our Traffic Manager was Cliff Sink. He measured our output - not in changers per day, but in tons of product shipped!

As Quality Control Manager, I reported to Howard Edwards along with the other departments until Howard left to work for the Government. Then I reported directly to Victor Miller. I had 8 Foremen, and many supervisors. Each Supervisor had 14 inspectors. The Supervisors and inspectors came and went with the seasonal component of our production. The foremen were pretty much constant all year.

V-MCV: What were some of the challenges in maintaining quality?

Mr. Born: Incoming parts quality was very important for us. We worked with our suppliers, so that they understood our requirements. In-house at V-M, we did basically three things - we stamped some three dozen metal parts, we painted parts, and we assembled. Everything else - about 95% of what we assembled - was purchased from some 300 suppliers or so. We did the design work, and contracted the manufacture to suppliers.

With that many suppliers, and with the volume of product we were producing, my Quality Control Department eventually had 270 employees at the peak. We controlled the quality of many truck loads of parts per day. All material came into four receiving/inspection departments - changer parts, tape parts, phono parts, and a separate area for baseplates & motors. We had about a million dollars of mechanical measuring and gauging equipment, plus electrical measuring equipment. The works assembly frame had over 400 dimensions on it. We inspected about 100 on an incoming basis. I never worried about what the functional parts looked like - I wanted to make sure they worked. My incoming inspection foremen had the responsibility to work very closely with our suppliers. I wanted them to know as much as possible about the use of their parts in our changers. The more they knew, the fewer problems we had in return.

It was the same with our Final Inspection foremen. They worked very closely with our customers. Remember, the bulk of V-M’s changer business was selling changers to other equipment manufacturers. So when I say "customer", that customer could be Motorola or Zenith or hundreds of others. Our basic philosophy was that if a customer complained about a problem - there was a problem! It was our responsibility to understand the problem and correct it. Secondly, if a problem did get by us, and it got shipped to the customer - I wanted to tell the customer before he found it. The worst thing is for a customer to get a surprise - then they think you don’t know what you are doing. If you tell them ahead of time, generally, we could work out how to correct it amiably.

I had 7 people on each changer line - 2 adjusters for tone arm landing, and 5 inspectors. The Inspectors checked every function of the changer, as well as its appearance. If there were any defects, the changer went to a repair area.. I used to tell Jim Reeves (Fred now says, with a twinkle in his eye) "Jim, if you build them right, then you won’t have to repair them". Jim and I got along very well. He realized that was true (see Jim Reeves interview, April 1999). The two basic measurements of a finished changer are rumble and wow & flutter. In production, the operator felt the vibration of the center spindle at the top. If excessive, then the changer went to repair. Usually, the cause would be a problem with the motor.

V-MCV: Any other stories come to mind?

Mr. Born: Bill Pape was our Production Manager, in charge of all production at V-M. One day, the story goes that a line operator went to Mr. Pape and asked to buy a baseplate and a turntable. When asked why, the operator explained that she had all the rest of the parts at home, and wanted to make a record changer. I don’t know what Bill’s answer was.

Here’s another story. Do you remember the Zenith cobra tone arm with the snake eyes? Reportedly, a customer from some company in Texas asked if a tone arm could be styled with a steer’s head on it!

Finally, here’s one that Roy Parr our OEM Sales Manager told me about Walter Miller. Walter’s philosophy was that he would do something for every employee at one time or another. One day, he and Roy were heading out of town to Chicago when Walter looked over and saw the wife of an employee pushing one of those reel type push mowers. Walter told Roy to stop the car, and he talked to the wife who was helping out her husband who was tired after working many hours. Walter instructed Roy to take him back into town where he bought the best power mower they had at the hardware store. He returned with the mower and a can of gas and presented them to the woman.

V-MCV: Your thoughts about the product, and the competition?

Mr. Born: Our product was very good. We had the first stereo tape player on the market in the U.S. We ultimately became the largest consumer products record changer and tape recorder manufacturer in the United States. In changers, BSR was not the competition some people thought they were. At that time, the British Government needed dollars, and the easiest way to get them was to subsidize the manufacture of a product that was sold in the U.S. British wage rates were also lower, and that was also a factor. So BSR could bring in changers F.O.B. Benton Harbor for $1 less than ours, and yet customers preferred putting V-M changers in their phonos. Ours was a better changer, extremely versatile in design/styling from year-to-year. What did hurt was when our customers began going out of business. In the tape area, the Japanese did become a competitor. They learned how to design, manufacture, and get the product to market before we could get the tooling made in the United States. They were fast and good.

V-MCV: You obviously enjoyed your working life.

Mr. Born: For 21 years, I lived V-M. Victor Miller never turned me down on anything I wanted to do. Gary, I was fascinated by every minute of it!

Thanks Fred, for sharing your memories!

The purpose of the V-M Collector's Voice Newsletter is to foster interest in collecting and restoring V-M products, and to preserve the memory of V-M Corporation's role in audio history. The Newsletter will be sent out to as many people as is economically possible by Gary Stork at the return address. A $2.00 donation would be helpful. Inquiries can also be made regarding back issue availability. Written material from subscribers is actively solicited and greatly appreciated! All material is verified with the originator before published. Mistakes do happen from time to time, and will be corrected in a subsequent issue.

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