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Oral-History:Jens Bang

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About Jens Bang

Jens Bang, 1997
Jens Bang, 1997

Jens Bang, son of Peter Bang, was born in 1935 and graduated from the technical university in Copenhagen in 1958. After employment with General Electric in the United States, Bang returned to Denmark in 1963 and worked in product management for Bang and Olufsen. At the time of this interview, he had functioned as Bang and Olufsen manager of product planning for over twenty years.

The first two-thirds of this interview details the corporate history of Bang and Olufsen, the company that Peter Bang co-founded in 1925. Jens Bang describes his father Peter's educational and employment background. He then details the Bang and Olufsen company's formation and its radio production, design, and marketing in the 1930s. Bang analyzes the influences of World War II on the company and on Danish industry. He details the company's postwar restructuring, as influenced by the death of Sven Olufsen in 1949 and of Peter Bang in 1957. The interview concludes with description of Bang and Olufsen's corporate growth in the 1960s, during Jens Bang's career there, with detailed explanation of product design and marketing.

About the Interview

JENS BANG: An Interview Conducted by Rik Nebeker, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 22 July 1996

Interview # 306 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Jens Bang, an oral history conducted in 1996 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: JENS BANG

INTERVIEWER: RIK NEBEKER

PLACE: BANG AND OLUFSEN FACTORY, STRUER, DENMARK

DATE: JULY 22, 1996

Peter Bang

Nebeker:

This is the 22 of July, 1996. I’m talking with Jens Bang at the Bang and Olufsen factory building. This is Rik Nebeker. I wanted to ask you about your father’s career. Before we do, if we could just get on record where and when you were born, and from there I will ask about your father’s career.

Bang:

Oh, you don’t want to take it chronologically?

Nebeker:

Well, I just wanted to get where you come into the picture, and then we’ll step back a couple of decades. [laughter]

Bang:

Okay. I came into the picture in 1935, when my father was 35 years old, and had founded Bang and Olufsen ten years earlier, and he was now getting successful enough that he could afford to marry. [laughter]

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

And maybe he also had a little time to get married. But he and Mr. Olufsen both lived at the factory, so my mother had to move into the main office of the factory. I was conceived there, and when I had to be born, my father built a house next to the factory, which was then his house.

Nebeker:

Was it actually in this factory building?

Bang:

It was in this factory building, yes.

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

Now it was the first factory building.

Nebeker:

The 1927 building.

Bang:

Correct.

Nebeker:

Your father was born in 1900. He was educated at the Aarhus Technicum.

Bang:

Correct.

Nebeker:

Was it there he met Sven Olufsen?

Bang:

That’s how the legend goes, but the truth is quite different. It’s true; he met Mr. Olufsen there, but actually only in the last year, because Mr. Olufsen had flunked one of his exams. He’s a little older, you see, two years older. He was moved down into the class that my father and Mr. Simon Peterson were in. These three guys were all interested, like everybody else at the time, in radio. In fact, they were interested in everything mechanical and technical at the start of the century -- like photography, cars, and telephones. At that time, the interest was fairly wide, but of course the idea of transmitting information through the air, wireless, was very exciting to all of them. They all decided that they wanted to devote their careers to making radios. People think that they decided to do it together, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that each of them decided to make a radio factory. [laughter] My father went to America, with his brother, Mr. Paul Bang, to learn how to do that.

Nebeker:

What year was that?

Bang:

1924.

Nebeker:

Had he graduated?

Bang:

At that time he had graduated, at the Technicum in Aarhus, which is what we call a more practical than theoretical education. The theoretical school was the Polytechnic University of Copenhagen. Then my father was a blacksmith; he had been educated four years at Siemens as a blacksmith, and then he went to the Technicum in Aarhus, where he took electrical machines and electrical education as it was taught in 1922, 1923.

Nebeker:

When you say a blacksmith, do you mean maybe a machinist?

Bang:

Yes.

Nebeker:

For Siemens?

Bang:

For Siemens in Copenhagen, which was a daughter company of Siemens Hauske in Germany. When people say "Oh, it’s fantastic that Bang and Olufsen is a big electronic company," I say "Oh, yes, but that’s not the way it was at the time, because as you made radios in the ‘20s, you didn’t have to know so awfully much about electronics." In fact, the only thing about electronics that you had to know, Mr. Foster knew, and he built an internal vacuum tube. It was a component you had no influence on; you could buy vacuum tubes, and you could buy other components, and you put them together, mechanically. You wired them together, and made radios. So to me it was a mechanical industry, really, the radio industry, not a electronic one, obviously. The word "electronics" wasn’t even invented until much, much later.

Nebeker:

So in 1924, having completed his degree, your father went to the United States?

Bang:

He went to GE in America and of course he couldn’t get a job there. He just took a boat over there, and took three weeks...

Nebeker:

Was he from a fairly well-off family, that he had money to do that?

Bang:

It was not a wealthy family, but it was a very industrious family. They were traditionally merchant people. When you come to Copenhagen, you go down the Strøget, and in the middle of the Strøget you have Illum, and if you look up at the first floor, you’ll see five rooms, and that was my grandfather's area; he was a merchant. That’s where my father grew up in Illum, at the turn of the century. That was very interesting, because that was the biggest department store in Copenhagen at the time, and they had cars, and they had a garage, where my father went, where he could learn how to maintain cars. One of his first inventions was how to pump a tire. At that time tires were always losing air, so one of his first inventions was how to pump the wheels when they were running. He put air into the ring of the rubber wheels, on a car when it was running, so you could pump it all the time.

Nebeker:

Did your grandfather work for Illum?

Bang:

He worked for Illum. He was not poor, but he was not extremely rich. He was what I would call...

Nebeker:

Maybe upper middle-class?

Bang:

Upper middle-class, yes. Out of a commercial background. Not a technical one at all. But that was not the reason my father could go to America. That was because he had an uncle who was a captain on a ship. So he got on this ship which was a commercial ship, a cargo ship, and that’s the way he got to America. There he started working at a garage, pumping gasoline, repairing Buick cars, which at that time were electrical, by the way.

Nebeker:

Some electrical cars?

Bang:

Yes, and then finally he got into the General Electric Company and sat at the assembly line, and through all that experience he learned how radios were built. He learned American ways, and he saw a factory, because GE was manufacturing radios, so he saw how it was done on something which today you would call an assembly line. He saw that the radio was a commercial, viable product because it was not only manufactured, but GE produced all the components, the tubes, the transformers --

Nebeker:

Was that his purpose in going to the United States, to learn about the radio industry, or about radios?

Bang:

I don’t know that for sure, but his interests, like most people at the time, were much wider then. I’m sure he focused on radio, but he was just as interested in cars, and in electricity, and photography, and all kinds of new things which were going on. There were so many exciting new things going on at the start of the new century, and America was in the forefront of all that, so if you had to learn, you had to go to America. And he did that...

Nebeker:

So he saw this as sort of a learning experience, not that he had any intention of emigrating?

Bang:

No, not at all.

No he was going over there to learn, and I’m sure he had the idea that he wanted to make his own factory. But that factory was not a radio factory. He wrote a letter to his father when he was in America, and he said, "I have to come home, and you have to allow me, dear Father." (He was very respectful and filial, so he asked him for permission to start his own company.) His father would not let him do that, because he thought my father should learn more before he started his own company. My son had the same problem; you always have that, father and son. You are not experienced; you are not mature enough, but he argued that he has to start now, because the first regular transmission of radio had started in Denmark, and he wanted to be among the first. He argued that those who are in the pioneering stage and do a good job, make their reputations. He wanted do something of quality, and he wanted to build a reputation for quality, and he knew, somehow, that it was easier to get the awareness for quality at in the pioneering stage than it was later, when the big companies from Germany and Holland came in.

Nebeker:

He argued that in a letter from America?

Bang:

In a letter from America, to his father: "Now, you have to allow me to do that," and as always the father doesn’t say no, doesn’t say yes, and because he didn’t say no, that meant that he had the possibility. [laughter] Then, what happened was that the second of these three guys at the Technicum in Aarhus, Mr. Olufsen, was supposedly going to inherit the farm. Later he became a farmer. He was interested in farming, but he was more interested in what most people in Jutland were doing, business. People in Jutland love to negotiate, buying a car or a horse, a ship. They love the process of negotiation, even more than the transaction of money and goods. It can go on for days, and, because the process of bargaining and negotiation is something which gives them a lot of joy, because that’s how you figure out people, so he wanted to be a businessman more than a farmer. He was very visionary too, and he saw these new possibilities of radio.

So when he finished his education in 1924, he went back to Kristol, where he started making his radio company. But after one year, he hadn’t gone anywhere, because he was not as practical as my father; he was more the visionary businessman. He saw the concepts, and he saw the possibilities, particularly the commercial possibilities. He was also technically reasonable, but his interest was more in what you could do with things. He gets nowhere, and then he calls Mr. Simon Peterson, the third guy, and says, "Why don’t you come down and help me, because you are such a practical man?" He remembered that in Aarhus, my father did the design of radios, and Simon built them. Therefore he thought that if he could get hold of Simon Peterson, Simon could do the practical things for him. But Simon Peterson was from a poor family from Northern Jutland, and he answered back, "No, I can’t do that, because I cannot afford having no income, like you. But why don’t you contact Peter Bang, because I know he’s coming back from America. He is the one who can do it for you. "

Bang & Olufsen formation, products

Bang:

There you have the story; Bang and Olufsen didn’t meet, and didn’t intend to do anything together, but they were brought together by a third person, Simon Peterson. He knew Mr. Bang could do the practical things, and he knew that Olufsen had the facility, the farm, the environment, so that’s how it was started at Kristol in Struer.

Nebeker:

I see, so as soon as your father came back from America, had he already been contacted by Sven Olufsen?

Bang:

I always wonder how come Simon Peterson knew that my father was coming back, and Mr. Olufsen didn’t know that, and I can see that from his letters. It was because all three of them had tuberculosis. This was very common in the beginning of the century in Denmark. They all three went to Norway at a hotel, up in the mountains, which was the only cure you had at the time for tuberculosis. There they all three had met some girls who were working at the hotels. When my father came back from America, he came back to Norway, not to Denmark. He was going to see a girl up there, and Mr. Simon Peterson also had a girl up there, so that’s how he met my father in Norway when he came back from America. Then he told Mr. Olufsen, and went directly from Norway down to Struer. In my father's next letter from his father, his father says, "Why on Earth don’t you come back to Copenhagen, which is a sensible place to build a factory, not over there on a farm in Western Jutland!" But at that time they had already started, and my father writes back, "I’ll tell you why I stay here. Because in Copenhagen they know that the duty on electronic valves, the main component for radios, is 40%," (which was a very stiff import duty in Denmark on high technology components). But in Struer they didn’t know what that was, so it came directly from America into Struer tax-free, without duty. That was a great advantage. But the fact is, he argued to stay here because he liked being here, of course. So that’s how it all started, and they didn’t start with making radios. They started making components, which was necessary -- transformers, potentiometers. Particularly they made the idea contact. My father had already in 1923 made a radio which was running directly on --

Nebeker:

House current.

Bang:

House current. Where at that time, all radios were run on batteries. Accumulators for the filament, and dry batteries for the mains, for the plate. That was very impractical, because when you were running out of current for the filament, the only place you could charge the batteries was the electricity station, so you had to carry them there. It was very, very impractical. So my father had the idea that he wanted to get rid of all that; he wanted to be more commercial. In order to do that, you had to make what he called an eliminator, which today you would call a power supply. It went from the mains and out it came, so you could both charge the accumulator for the filament, and you could generate --

Nebeker:

Direct current?

Bang:

Direct voltage and of course current for the anode, for the plate. That product was actually the first product they made, and he called it the eliminator because it eliminated batteries.

Nebeker:

So that was, according to what I have read, 1926 that that product was introduced.

Bang:

They did introduce a radio also in 1926, but in that you have this eliminator, and that was the one which sold all over Scandinavia, in big quantities, in the late ‘20s.

Nebeker:

The eliminator or the whole radio?

Bang:

The eliminator. They never got sold more than 20 radio units, and some people say that shows they were a failure, but again you have to remember that what my father learned in America was not only about building radios. He knew that before he came there. He learned the processes of building radios. Remember, nobody had seen a radio factory. So you couldn’t study it; you had to invent it yourself. In order to build transformers, he had to build a machine, a widening coil for transformers. He built one with six coils at the time so he could do it more rationally. You didn’t have wires for radios, because there was no radio industry. The only wire you had was from the telephone industry. You had these wires with cotton around them, like the bell wires. There were no wires, so you had to do all that yourself, at the time.

Nebeker:

So these production techniques allowed the company to, well not only produce, in an economic way, these eliminators, but also the components you’ve mentioned?

Bang:

Yes. Mainly the transformers, and the variable resistor. He develop a very unique resistor because it had to be of variable high impedence, in order to regulate the high voltage 200 volt for the plate.

Nebeker:

I know that, at least in the ‘30s, the company sold a lot of components outside of Denmark. To England in particular.

Bang:

Yes. England, Sweden, yes. In the ‘30s they also sold a lot of film machineries, but that’s another story. They also invented tone films, recording equipment, and playback equipment. Optical recording and playback machines for sound and picture. In 1928-29 they did that. But that was because their main product in the late ‘20s were the eliminators and a lot of components, of a different....

Nebeker:

Just to try to list those components. You mentioned a variable resistor.

Bang:

Fixed resistors.

Nebeker:

Fixed resistors, transformers.

Bang:

Transformers, potentiometers, yes. And then the most important component came in 1928, the dynamic speaker. Before that time, first you used headphones for radios, in the early ‘20s. Then you took a headphone driver, which is not dynamic. (What do you call that principle, when you have the moving iron instead of the moving coil?) You took the capsule from a telephone, and you put a cone to it, so you could have some type of amplification. It was fairly weak, and it had a very, very narrow frequency range. My father had seen that Peter L. Jensen had gone to America in 1914, and invented the dynamic speaker, where you had the voice coil in a magnetic field, which at the time was done with DC current from the mains, because you didn’t have permanent magnets strong enough at the time. So then he started building the dynamic cone-driven speakers in 1928.

Nebeker:

The company, Bang and Olufsen?

Bang:

The company Bang and Olufsen started to do that. At that time they did a very thorough construction job, in order to improve the frequency range, the sensitivity, and they actually made a speaker which was incredibly high quality, both in fidelity as well as in amplitude and volume.

Speakers and amplifiers for radio, motion picture; Magnavox

Nebeker:

Where were these speakers sold?

Bang:

First they were sold in 1928-1929 in the first radio. They were built in a cabinet next to the radio cabinet.

Nebeker:

I see, in a separate cabinet.

Bang:

In a separate cabinet in order to have a good baffle, and to have something you could have in a home. They were sold there, but the big breakthrough came in 1928 when my father sent one of his youngest, what do you call that?

Nebeker:

Colleagues, or workers?

Bang:

An apprentice, who was a cousin of mine. He was sent to [unintelligible], where there was a cinema exhibition. There were people in Denmark who owned cinemas, but cinemas were still...

Nebeker:

Silent movies.

Bang:

Silent movies, and they had imported from America the first Disney film called “Steamboat Charlie."

Nebeker:

“Steamboat Willie,” I think it was.

Bang:

Sorry. “Steamboat Willie,” which is one of the first sound pictures. By the way, do you know when the first sound picture was made in America?

Nebeker:

Well, there were some early ones, but 1926-27 are the first commercial successes.

Bang:

Because my father in one of his letters claims that he had seen a talking movie in New York in late ‘25. Is that possible?

Nebeker:

Yes, there were some earlier ones, but the first successful ones were ‘26-27.

Bang:

Yes. And “Steamboat Willie” must have been one of them.

Nebeker:

I think it was a little bit later.

Bang:

Oh, that was later. But that was more sophisticated anyhow, because it was brought to Denmark, and it was shown to these people who were owning silent movie theaters all over Denmark. My father sent this young apprentice, sixteen years old, up there, so they could couple his speakers together with an amplifier. At that time, because they could build fantastical upward transformers, they could import high-powered tubes from America, and they could make 20-25 watt amplifiers directly run on the mains. They only did that for fun, because at that time they were playing with all possibilities. So they went up there, and they coupled that amplifier which was very strong, at that time, because cinema amplifiers were still running on batteries. It’s incredible, so they weren’t very strong, obviously. The inventor called it the Magnavox, which is a very good description, because in comparison to everything else at the time, the greatest difference in voice volume was the Magnavox. This was not only much louder, but it was also much wider in its frequency range than anything you had seen before. I have talked to people who had heard it at the time, and they said it was like God coming from the sky; it was almost against nature.

Nebeker:

Yes, it was probably the first time that a human voice much louder than a natural one had been heard.

Bang:

Right. You knew on a ship that you could have a megaphone, and you could amplify. But that you could have full frequency response and full power to that extent -- you know, they built it on cars, so they --

Nebeker:

Sound trucks.

Bang:

Sound trucks, and they used them for circuses; they used them for letting the military march after them. My father took one up in a military balloon, and on a day like this you could hear them, over an enormous area, and all the people out in the country said, "Oh, God; now it’s doomsday. Voices are coming." [laughter] We forget what a sensation it was, so I think Peter L. Jensen did well when he called it the Magnavox, because that was exactly what it was. At this cinema convention, this was sensational. This was incredibly much better than any system brought from Western Electric, from America. It was much better sound. They also were very surprised that the soundtrack on that “Steamboat Willie” was of a much higher quality than they had thought. Everybody thought it was bad quality, but it wasn’t the soundtrack that was bad; it was the speakers and the amplifiers. So when you used good speakers and good amplifier, the people at Bang and Olufsen were surprised that the basic soundtrack was actually much better than thought to be.

So when my father came back to Struer, they said, "Let’s build it all ourselves." So at the spur of the moment they were suddenly out of the regular industry and into the sound movies. A year later they opened their first theater, where they built everything from amplifiers, to speakers, to optical detection, protection systems, how to detect the sound, or the optical detection systems. One year later. From there on, a few years later, they had sold cinemas to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, all the Baltic, and so forth, and already in 1935 they got the Comprix award in Brussels for the most ingenious invention. In the meantime, they also made recording systems for making film. Not only play back, but also recording. In a bus, they built a whole studio. The bus could run out and make on-site pictures and sound synchronized with a tone camera, an optical tone. So suddenly they were in the movie business. But that was all due to the speaker. The speaker was the key to it. And the transformers.

RCA, patents, and manufacturing; Bofa company

Nebeker:

I know a separate company was set up in the ‘30s.

Bang:

Yes, but you must remember, which I also told you, that the leader of all this technology -- tone films, radios, components for radios -- was America. At the time, the American radio companies made something they called RCA, which was actually in the beginning a patent pool. Later it was a company. But in the beginning it was a patent pool among different companies. That patent pool RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, dealt with radio patents, and they of course went to Europe in order to collect licenses. They had many good lawyers, and they had many good strong patents, and they used very mean methods. They came here and said they would close down Bang and Olufsen and said, "You are closed down until you can prove you are innocent. That will take a year or two, and in the meantime you'll go broke." Then the only option you had was you could post bail, but they put the bail at a half a million US dollars.

Nebeker:

Oh, the license fees?

Bang:

No, bail, so you can go on until the court has decided how much you have to pay.

Nebeker:

So the Danish courts actually ruled that the company had to cease manufacture?

Bang:

They didn’t, because then they started fighting it, and for the first ten years they were in court all the time. Mainly it was with RCA, so when Bang and Olufsen built tone films, they feared they would get in a similar situation with Western Electric. In order to protect themselves from that, they made a daughter company called Bofa , which only means B&O (Bang and Olufsen) Factories. In case they were hit, it was only Bofa, the new venture, which was hit, and the main radio company was at that time out of RCA’s problems. They didn’t want to go through all that once more, so it was only for legal reasons; it was not for any other reason.

Nebeker:

Was it separate physically?

Bang:

No.

Nebeker:

Did the production facilities reside elsewhere?

Bang:

No. It was the same management and bookkeeping for both. It was only a legal arrangement which at the time you could still use to protect yourself. Today I don’t think you could do it, because today you can pierce the corporate wheel, but at that time you could put up a legal construction, which legally protected you.

Nebeker:

That’s very interesting.

Bang:

That was the only reason for it.

Nebeker:

And that company, that line of products of B&O, did very well?

Bang:

Oh, yes, they did very well. They had 75 percent of all the cinema, hospitals, all amplifying systems in Denmark.

Nebeker:

I see. The public address systems in hospitals?

Bang:

Yes, because that was the same thing, powerful speakers, powerful amplifiers, for public address.

Nebeker:

Train stations?

Bang:

Train stations, hospitals, big hotels, where you could have radio in the room.

Nebeker:

What about on ships? I know there used to be loudspeakers on ships.

Bang:

Yes, on ships too, but there, Mr. Simon Peterson specialized, so he got most of the ships. That was his specialty.

Nebeker:

I see. So that was especially in the ‘30s that that was an important line of products for....

Bang:

It was almost half the turnover, so it was a very important part of it. But the common denominator of all of this was excellent dynamic speakers, an excellent transformer, mainly the push-pull output transformers, which were the main component for building what we today call high-power amplifiers and hi-fi speakers.

Roles of Sven Olufsen and Peter Bang

Nebeker:

What was the division of labor between your father and Sven Olufsen in the company in those years? And other people that played an important role?

Bang:

The division of labor was that my father was most of the time on site, meaning he was here in Struer going through the factory every day. He was also travelling, ten or fifteen percent, mainly to Copenhagen, where his father lived, and that was the big city. But he was mainly the practical man who stayed at home and signed the letters every evening going out and opened the letters every next morning. Mr. Olufsen was the outgoing man and he was away from the factory most of the time. He was making commercial deals, doing the advertising, the sales...

Nebeker:

In charge of sales?

Bang:

In charge of sales, but you can’t say officially, because division of work was not technical or commercial, like some people would expect. But he was a real PR man, a very visionary man, so he believed very much in what today you would call...

Nebeker:

Corporate identity?

Bang:

Oh sure, he did that for sure. No, he believed very much in testimonials.

Nebeker:

Oh, I see.

Bang:

One of the first people he got hold of was Gilli, the famous opera singer in Italy, and he brought him to Tivoli, and he sang with this amplifier system. He sang for 40,000 people.

Nebeker:

What year was that, do you recall?

Bang:

‘32, I think. That was unheard of, that one voice could entertain 40,000 people, in the open. Mr. Gilli was also impressed, and he got a radio gramophone from Bang and Olufsen. He actually made a testimonial of how proud he was of the fantastic quality of the product, and so on. The only problem was that nobody had heard about Gilli in Denmark, so it wasn’t very commercial. [laughter]

Domestic and export marketing

Nebeker:

Can you estimate what percent of the market in the ‘30s was domestic, as in Denmark, and what percent was...?

Bang:

Oh, they talked very much about the exports, but I don’t think that in the ‘30s they ever had more than five percent in exports. We were in a Europe where every country was very nationalistic and there was a duty barrier, about forty-fifty-sixty percent, around the individual countries. So trade among the countries was very, very difficult. It was only when you had a unique product which nobody else did, in the beginning, before it was also produced in other countries, that you could export.

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

I mentioned that the most important components they made were speakers and transformers, but in 1933 they also made pickup cartridges and tonearms. They also made...

Nebeker:

Well, they began making combined radio gramophones.

Bang:

Oh, yes. That was ‘32-’33, when they really became commercial, because that’s when they changed from the mechanical phonograph to the electrical recording and electrical playback. That’s at the end of the ‘20s, and commercially, this was the beginning of the ‘30s. That was a big step too, because it was not only louder, but again it was higher fidelity, because you didn’t have this limit of frequency response.

Nebeker:

I know in ‘32 the company called itself the quality product.

Bang:

Yes. Right.

Nebeker:

It was the quality brand.

Bang:

Right.

Nebeker:

So were they aiming at the upper end of the market?

Bang:

They were. The word “quality” has always been connected with it. They aimed for quality. To them, it was natural that high quality was more expensive than lower quality. But their marketing effort was not specifically upmarket. In fact, in many of their ads in the ‘30s, they say quality can now be had at reasonable prices, and sometimes they even got eager and said, "Now we can put our high quality microphones at the lowest price on the market." It was not a marketing philosophy of high price marketing. It was an engineering philosophy of making the highest possible quality, and thereby establishing a brand identity, which they were very, very obsessed about, getting their name known. If you asked what was driving these two fellows -- it’s a question I’ve asked myself -- it wasn’t money. They didn’t do all that to become rich; they did all that because it was so exciting. It was new; they were curious. If they had to make a lot of money they would focus on some of it, but they spread themselves out over many, many different things they could do, because they could do things better than anybody else. People came and said, "You make the best speakers. Why can’t you make a recording studio?" and they answer, "Why can’t we do that? Maybe we can do that. Let’s see; if we do so and so, can we do that? Oh, then we have to do so and so. Let’s try." Then, they would be in a new business.

Circuitry design, R&D

Nebeker:

Now with all of this work, who was doing the circuitry design?

Bang:

In the beginning of course it was my father. But when he went to America, he went with a captain called Mr. Linnert. When Linnert had sons who needed to be apprenticed, he sent them up to Struer to my father, saying, "I took you to America, so now you'd better take my sons into apprenticeships." So that was fair enough, and Struer was three days' journey away from Copenhagen, so this was far out in the boondocks at that time. Some people still think it is. But now it is in the middle of the world, with airplanes going directly everywhere. This very gifted young fellow called Harl Linnert took over in 1927 or 1928. He is one of the old employees, 94 years old. He still lives here in Struer. He tells what he remembers. This little factory you saw in the picture here, in 1928, is where they still were living, both the founders, and at one of the doors they put up a sign saying "laboratory," and that, you know, was an organizational recognition, that behind that door sat Harl Linnert, and he did all the scientific exploration of the new possibilities. I had his book, where every day he wrote notes of his work. I did that at GE too; you did that in the old days, because that is the way you described all your experiments, and when the day was over, you stamped it with your name, and you signed and dated it, and had your boss witness this, that he had seen you. That was the proof of which day you invented things. This book is done by Harl Linnert, so it shows that he was the one who did the construction work, and my father then took over more building on the factory side.

Nebeker:

I see, production manager...

Bang:

He had a production manager, but he was the one who went to Germany and bought new machinery. He brought in Bakelite, which was a new wonderful material from which you could form things, you could make microphones, you could make tonearms, you could make speaker baskets, you could make even full radios in Bakelite. So he brought in and developed processes.

Nebeker:

I see, so your father was sort of in production R&D, and Linnert was more in product R&D?

Bang:

Yes. Of course, you have to remember that the division of work were there, but it was not as....

Nebeker:

Formalized.

Bang:

It was formalized, but because there was so few people, it was all sitting together and discussing it in a polytechnical way.

[End of tape one, side one.]

Reasons for success of Bang and Olufsen

Bang:

And then Mr. Olufsen had a guy also in ‘29, called Hoffman-Lauerson, who then became the sales manager and bookkeeper. So the key people at the time were Harl Linnert, Hoffman-Lauerson, and the two founders. I once asked Mr. Linnert how come they broke away after the war and made their own company. At one time it was even bigger than Bang and Olufsen: called Linnert and Lauerson. They had all the know-how, and they were very good people, and they become very successful, but later their fortunes turned.

I asked Harl Linnert, my cousin, a year before he died some time ago, "Why do you think it was Bang and Olufsen and not you, and not any of the 19 other companies, which survived?" He thought about it, because he had never before thought about it, although he was old at the time. He said it was because they had a guy called Christian Sorenson. He was the first employee of Bang and Olufsen, and he was a very gifted mechanical man. He could make precision things like motors, like cinema equipment, because he could do anything mechanically at a state of quality which was incredible. I think he’s right, that Bang and Olufsen was different from all other radio companies in Denmark, that they built mechanical things, acoustical things. Because acoustical things are mechanical. A microphone (at the time at least it was), a microphone, a cartridge, a speaker, even a radio, was purely mechanical; film equipment is mechanical. They could do fine mechanics, and that skill is more rare. To make a radio, you just need an assembly line; you buy components and you assemble them, and that’s a fairly good assembling business. But constructing, when you can make your own components, then you can do more than just assemble it. When you can just assemble components from subsuppliers, you can maybe become more efficient than others, but you can never be better than the components you assemble. You can maybe be intelligent or not intelligent, but you are always limited by the basic capability of the components. When you can do your own components, you can develop the components in a direction you know makes a benefit to the total integration. Therefore, Bang and Olufsen, in my view, was a mechanical company, and it survived because it was mechanical, not because it was electrical, or electronic today.

Nebeker:

It had good mechanical people.

Bang:

It had good mechanical people all the way from the start, and therefore it could do these more difficult things like acoustical things.

Company growth, 1920s-1970s

Nebeker:

I have some employment figures for later years. I know in 1950 there were something like 600 employees. Of course, it started from a couple of people in the mid-’20s. Do you have some idea of how rapidly the company grew in the ‘30s?

Bang:

I have data for it at home, but...

Nebeker:

Roughly.

Bang:

Roughly, when they built the company in Ginzing, the first company in ‘27, I imagine there must have been 30 people in that building, and then it grew every year in the ‘30s. Even during the war it grew every year.

Nebeker:

So fairly steadily from ‘27 to...

Bang:

Yes, I would say of course there were ups and downs. If you had a good year like ‘37 and ‘38 where the product was sensational, then you grew faster, and then if you had a bad product it grew slower, but there was something I think like 300 people before the war. In ‘48 there were 600 people, and then, how many do you say in the ‘60s there were?

Nebeker:

Well, I had 600 in 1950, going to 762, but then very rapidly in the ‘60s the company grew.

Bang:

At the end of the ‘60s it grew and then in the beginning of the ‘70s it was all the way to 3000 people, if you count all the daughter companies, and so on.

Nebeker:

Yes. Okay, so fairly steady growth.

Bang:

Fairly steady, if you average them out. But if you look at it, it was dramatic, and at the time, they also used the same methods as the Swiss watch industry. Starting in the ‘30s, but particularly in the ‘40s and the ‘50s, they had about 300 people doing the work at home.

Nebeker:

Oh, is that right?

Bang:

Shop assembly at home.

Nebeker:

Oh, I see.

Bang:

This was the same way the Swiss watch industry was. Up in the mountains, people were sitting and making sub-assemblies.

Nebeker:

Those people in the Struer area?

Bang:

That was the people in the Struer area who were sitting at home, mainly women, who could then take care of the children. They could sit at home and do piece assemblies, on a paid-by-unit basis.

Nebeker:

I see. And that was an important part of production?

Bang:

It was an important part of production in the ‘40s and the ‘50s and the ‘60s...

Nebeker:

Is that right, even in the ‘60s?

Bang:

It would have still existed because it was also a very important part of... remember, we are back at before Denmark was socialized. That means that if you couldn’t leave your home for sickness or children or other reasons, there was no welfare to feed you. It was a very good system of giving income to people who couldn’t have income any other way, and unfortunately it was stopped at the beginning of the ‘80s, because of these environment rules. You couldn’t make exhaust pipes at home. People were soldering, people were doing things at the kitchen table, and then later you found out the dangers of fumes from a soldering iron. You had to have exhaust vents and all that, and you couldn’t provide all of these things individually at home, so it died out.

Nebeker:

I see. That’s very interesting. So these people are not counted in those numbers of employees that you mentioned?

Bang:

No, no. They were considered as subsuppliers. But because they worked all their lives for Bang and Olufsen, that was one of the problems; they considered themselves employees, because there was status involved. When they had regular work they felt that they were almost full employees, but there were no obligations, no pensions, and so forth.

Radio experimentation and design

Push button radio, 1939

Nebeker:

A couple of products in the late 1930s are of special interest to me. One was the push button radio in 1939.

Bang:

[laughter] Yes.

Nebeker:

That was an innovation for Bang and Olufsen.

Bang:

Yes. Sure.

Nebeker:

Do you know anything about the development of that, what, where the idea came from, or...?

Bang:

It came in several, two steps. In ‘34 or ‘35, there was a young man just graduated from the Polytechnical University of Copenhagen, called Mr. Okor. He wanted to start his own company, and he wanted to do measuring instruments for the radio industry. So in order to learn something about his customer or something about manufacturing, or something about it, he went to Struer. At that time, when you had new engineers coming right from university, you knew you couldn’t trust them, because they had no experience, so you always put them at something where if they failed, it wasn’t a catastrophe. He was put in building measuring instruments, because that was not so dangerous. You did not sell them. It didn’t have such big consequences as doing a wrong construction in the production line. So he was asked, and this was interesting, to build a test generator for radio waves. You must remember, in the early ‘30s, you had an assembly line, a hundred people sitting and wiring together components for radios. You couldn’t tune them in the daytime, because you had DC motors, you had noise fields. In the day when you have AM radio, the radio waves are weak. They become stronger at night, so you couldn’t tune them in the day. So the whole day's production, which could be one hundred units maybe, was stored, and then at night you had trimmers coming in, when the factory was stopped. There were no interference radio waves; you only had the real radio waves from BBC, Konigsberg, or somewhere in Sweden, so then you could tune the radios.

Nebeker:

This is really calibrating the radios.

Bang:

Tuning the IF frequency and calibrating the RF so they were tracking. I’s a complicated job, with a super. When you had the super you had the IF frequency 455, or 45, it was at the time, and that had to be set up, and then you had to track the RF and the oscillators. The point was, you could only do that when you had a signal to track it on, and there were only radio stations to do that on; you didn’t have an oscillator which generated those high frequencies. So Mr. Okor constructed the first RF generator, which had to be sweeping all the way from long waves to medium waves, to the new short waves. You started long waves, then you went to medium, and then you went to short. This generator had to cover all three bands. Actually, it’s continuous, but since you couldn’t do that, you called it three bands. You called it long wave, medium wave, short wave, even though they are of course overlapping each other. You named them three different bands, because that’s the way you materialized them. He did an RF generator which could do that, which was sensational. Now at the assembly line, with this test generator, you could trim and tune the radio at a running belt. So this was a great, great, great advantage. Then he went back to Copenhagen, where he founded Radiometer, which is now one of the biggest companies in Denmark.

Nebeker:

Sure. I see; so he started at Bang and Olufsen?

Bang:

He started there, like many, many people. Many companies in Denmark are offspring of Bang and Olufsen. This environment was my father and Mr. Olufsen, but mainly my father was on location here in Struer. Mr. Olufsen did these PR happenings, like speaker cars, like concerts for 40,000 people in Tivoli, all which were in the papers. Word was spreading all over Denmark about how Bang and Olufsen had taken a speaker in a balloon, and the army was marching, and everybody knew that in Struer they could do sensational things, so this drew a lot of young people, among them engineers. Many of them were just fascinated with the idea of working with all of these things. They knew here they had facilities to be able to do things they wouldn’t be able to do anyplace else. So they went to Struer like a magnet, in the ‘30s. Later, of course, they got married, and a lot of them wanted to have their own businesses.

Production processes and quality of labor

Bang:

This is interesting, that people wanted to have their own freedom, not to make a lot of money, because that was not so; it was a question of working for others or being your own self. It’s completely different today. Today people who found companies want to make money. [laughter]. But at that time they wanted to be independent, and be on their own. When my father wrote his letter in ‘24, trying to convince his father that he has to start on his own, he said, "I have worked for so many different people. I’m tired for working for others; now I want to work for myself." This is a very important reason that he has to start. He has to start now because he says the time is now.

It is also very typical that founders somehow have a much clearer idea of timing, and I mean having the right education, being at the right place at the right time. Somehow he knew the timing, and he had made his education, and Struer was the right place. This was a farm district, and you had a lot of farm laborers coming in because farms were already starting getting mechanized, and farm labor is the best labor you can have. Henry Ford said it too; he said his first generation of workers was farm labor. Farm laborers know that you have to put seed in the ground, and you cannot harvest before next year. You have to do things before you can harvest. But people in the city want to eat first, and they don’t want to prepare for next year.

Nebeker:

So the quality of labor was better here than he would have been able to get in Copenhagen?

Bang:

Much better from an attitude point of view, but also much better from an intelligence reserve, because when there is only one factory, all the best and brightest people go there. If you have a big city the brightest people go to even brighter places. So you collect stable farm labor and collect all the intelligence reserve in an area, and particularly of course you get the woman laborers.

Nebeker:

So this Okor...

Bang:

He then goes back, and he gives many examples of how people learned to do it here, and they started for themselves.

Nebeker:

What was his connection to the push button radio?

Bang:

His connection was only that at the time Mr. Linnert, my father, everybody at Bang and Olufsen, even the technical engineers from Aarhus (which most of them were), were practical engineers, not theoretical engineers. Mr. Okor was a highly gifted theoretical engineer, so he could calculate these coils, and make this generator. This is a very important shift, because in the beginning when you experiment with a radio, you take components, you experiment, and you measure the output in relation to your experiment. You optimize the construction by doing a lot of experimentation. But as soon as you can do that, as long as you can move around the mechanical parts, when you can see what you are doing, you can get extremely far, and I think even farther than doing it by experimentation. But as soon as the things are not visible anymore, like a computer program, like in chemistry, like the theory of a tuned RF circuit at this time, it is different. I learned that myself later. I was employed by Mr. Okor, and he deliberately put me into experimentation. He wanted to tell me that there was so far you could get by experimentation, then you had to get back to theory, and put theory to practice, and put practice to theory. He was the first theoretical man who could calculate many coils, and that’s what you needed when we came to the push buttons, so he did the mathematical foundation for optimizing tuned RF circuits in the theoretical manner. You couldn’t do it all with theory, but theory together with mechanical experimentation could bring the whole state of knowledge and know-how dramatically forward.

That was necessary in ‘37, when short wave suddenly became a must, because people wanted to listen to the fishermen out here; short wave was used for the fishing fleet. The fishing fleet was away from home, two, three, four, five days, and then wives were sitting ashore, and they would like to hear what their husbands were saying on the radio on the boat, and they were short waves. Bang and Olufsen made radios with short waves, because Mr. Okor had taught them how to do that. That was sensational because the government, as governments always do, immediately prohibited them, saying that this is unlawful because one cannot listen in on private communications.

Short wave radios; tuners

Nebeker:

They’re saying that they could not make a receiver that could receive short waves?

Bang:

Short waves. That would be unlawful. And that was wonderful, because the issue was in all the papers and then everybody wanted to have it. [laughter] But then the next step is if you can do these circuit short waves, medium waves, high waves, then you can make one for each with push button. The push button is a development from full wave and it goes all the way back to Mr. Okor, and another fellow named Jensen. He was from Aarhus but he was also more theoretical. Those two learned to make what were later called tuners. The tuner was not invented as a separate component; it was just the RF section, but then it was encapsulated and called the tuner. In fact Mr. Olufsen went into the laboratory one day, and saw them working on this what you would call an [unintelligible] tuner. He asked, "What are you doing?" They couldn’t explain to him because at that time he already was more commercial than technical, so they said, "You could say that what we are doing here is actually the heart of the whole radio." So he said, "Oh, you are making a radio heart!" Then he went out and commercialized the idea of the radio heart. They even had these tuners and they showed them to people and said, "This is the heart of a radio, and we alone have invented the radio heart," which is what you would call the tuner today.

Nebeker:

They actually marketed separate tuners?

Bang:

No. They marketed radios with hearts.

Nebeker:

Oh, I see.

Bang:

And that was a big commercial success. A radio with a heart! [laughter][unintelligible passage]

Bang:

But I think you can see that all the way from the beginning, both Mr. Olufsen and Peter Jensen had a very clear idea that they had to make this equipment for the home. They wanted to make it. In English you would say that they wanted to domesticate radios for the home. They even set down what you would call the mission today, and it says that a product has to be the highest quality on the inside as well as the outside. They wanted to make quality, and the product also had to fit in the home. The first radios my father did were like a musical instrument, where you took an ebony plate, and you screwed on all the components, and you put it in an oak frame, because measuring instruments at that time in Germany used oak frames, with an ebony plate, and then a brass instrument at the top. That’s also what you had on the electricity stage, and you had a plate of ebony or a plate of marble, and then you fixed isolated material, where you fixed the electrical component. But very soon he started making cabinetry and knot wood, more elaborate.

Push button radio

Nebeker:

I had a question about that, just to get it on tape: this push button radio, what the push buttons did, was to select bands?

Bang:

No.

Nebeker:

To select stations? It actually...

Bang:

The first step after Okor was to select bands. The second step was that you had three bands, short, medium and long, and the push button selects a pretuned station.

Nebeker:

That was set in the factory, the individual buttons.

Bang:

It was tuned in the factory at the station out there, which you could only do when you sell it in one country, Denmark, because obviously if you exported that to America it wouldn’t work.

Nebeker:

I see, so that 1939 radio did this?

Bang:

Correct.

Nebeker:

Was individual stations.

Radio design; "ladies' radio," radio cabinets

Bang:

It was individual stations, and in fact there is a radio from 1929, and in 1929 they had an ad in the paper which says, "The ladies’ radio." The ladies’ radio. Remember, in 1929 there is only one station in Denmark, so they made a radio with this wonderful speaker, and the cabinetry, and on the side of it there’s some tuning buttons. The idea is that somebody tunes in to the station, and then the ladies can just flip on the main switch on the wall, and when the switch is on they have an active radio. So this is simplicity; they knew this was the problem. Ladies wouldn’t do a lot of tuning. They liked just to listen to the radio, so the company built a radio for ladies where you just listen to the radio.

Nebeker:

I think it’s also very interesting that at that early time, there was also this idea of hiding all the controls.

Bang:

Yes. Later it became the primary, the secondary, and the tertiary, and it was already at that time that they had this door over the controls.

Nebeker:

So all the controls are hidden...

Bang:

And that you can find in Bang and Olufsen objects all the way from 1928 to today.

Nebeker:

So that’s very interesting.

Bang:

Today you hide it electronically by programming, but the idea of course is the same.

Nebeker:

Yes. Another thing that came in the ‘30s...

Bang:

Except when you hide it electronically, in menus, then people can’t understand it. But if you do it mechanically, people can understand. “Oh, that’s smart! Then, if I want, I have them. I don’t have to be without them. I have them, but only when I need them, but I don’t need them very often, so that’s fine.”

[static on tape]

Bang:

Oh, you can use it for that too.

Nebeker:

I know in the ‘30s maybe it was, this one radio I saw, 1939, where the whole radio cabinet was Bakelite.

Bang:

Yes. Bakelite was an English invention made by mixing together two compounds and heating them up, so you have a thermal setting material, because bakelite is a thermal setting. Today you have thermoplastic materials; you can melt them again and again. But Bakelite is a beautiful material, very fascinating. My father was fascinated by it when he learned about it in England, and Philips took it up in their production, and called it Philite, and Bang and Olufsen took it up and called it BOlite; exactly from Bakelite, you had Philite, and BOlite. Again, that was because my father was fascinated by new processes. The ability to be able to mold everything from a small part to a whole cabinet...

The idea was that this would be cheaper to make a cabinet in that way, than it would be to have a carpenter make it. He was so fascinated with it, that he started making knobs. I remember an ad I saw the other day, where he brags in 1933 or 1934 that last month they sold 60,000 knobs for radios to another manufacturer.

Nebeker:

Oh, is that right?

Bang:

So when he could master a process, and had tooled it up, then they sold these components to other manufacturers too. What was your question?

Nebeker:

I just wanted to confirm that that came in in the 1930s, the full cabinet.

Bang:

1939, yes. Really what’s interesting, absurd in a way, is that it also says in the ad that it’s a streamlined radio. Making a radio like it is supposed to drive 120 kilometers an hour is absurd, because it’s at a fixed point. But if you look at that radio, when you come and you have seen it, you see that it came out of a contest. They put an ad in the paper, and said, "Anybody who wants to design a radio, we have invented a new material called BOlite, and if anybody can tell us what we can use that for, they will get a reward." Somebody in Aarhus suggested this design, which they then carried out. If you look at one, you can see that he must have been influenced by Raymond Loewy, a French man educated in England, who went to America and started making streamlining. He made streamlined trains in America; he streamlined everything.

Nebeker:

Appliances.

Bang:

Appliances were streamlined; he streamlined the classical cars, the Studebaker. It was streamlined, so much that you couldn’t see what was front and rear, and so streamlining was in fashion.

Nebeker:

So there was actually a contest to design...

Bang:

There was a contest, and out of many proposals, that was selected, and the BOlite 39, as it was called, was then put into production. The man must have been an architect or an artistic person, who had seen a Morgan car. If you look at the grill, you’ll see it’s from a typical English racing car of the late ‘30s.

Production technology; efficiency

Nebeker:

What about production technology in all of this period? You have of course these molded components; the whole chassis, or whole case is molded. I know that the factory had a kind of assembly line, that things were passed from hand to hand. They never actually had a moving belt, did they?

Bang:

Some periods, particularly later, they had the moving belts, but in the beginning, the workstation was a desk which was one meter and twenty, and a fairly small desk, where you could have the chassis and you had the component. You had a rack with the component, and then you mounted the things; you put them out at a table, which was standing. It was more a table standing next to a long table in the middle, so when you were finished, you pushed it out there and it was put on a piece of wood...

Nebeker:

With wheels on it?

Bang:

Wheels, or something that you could slide it on. But there wasn’t any running belt. I don't think Bang and Olufsen used running belts before they started making wire board, printer board, when the things were smaller.

Nebeker:

Was your father interested in what was very popular in the ‘20s and ‘30s, these efficiency experts, the time measurements?

Bang:

He was interested in efficiency, but I don’t think that he had learned the theoretical rationalization from America. That came to Europe, and to Bang and Olufsen, after the Second World War, like many other things, in ‘46, ‘47, then the rationalization man with a stopwatch came into it. But my father was very interested in efficiency, obviously, because you had to have modern, efficient, big production. He called it big production, in relation to others. He wanted to be a mass producer.

Nebeker:

You mentioned the simultaneous manufacture...

Bang:

He went out of the factory and simply counted how many pieces that a man was doing, and he also developed a sneaky method. At that time, you started at 6:30 in the morning, and he went down and looked at the end meter in the main power station, at the factory’s power station, and then he watched and he plotted the main consumption of energy, power, how many amps and kilowatts were consumed, because he knew that that was proportional to the machines running. When it got close to 4:00 in the evening, or 5:00 it was in the old days, then he also plotted it to see when they shut off the machines, so he could see if they shut it off half an hour early, or when they started to shut off the machines. If that curve didn’t satisfy him he could go up and go around and find out who was shutting off too early, because he knew somebody was doing something. So he counted efficiency, but I did not see a stopwatch before 1948. That came from America, where the rationalization man would break up everything into movements and time them with a stopwatch.

Nebeker:

Were there any other new production technologies in the first couple of decades, up through World War Two, that you can think of? Were there any larger machines that were developed for...

Bang:

If you say larger machines, there was this interest in Bakelite. The Bakelite process factory was, if not the biggest, among the biggest. Maybe the machine shop was as big, but the Bakelite department was very big. He developed those machines himself and tools, for the parts, so it was a big toolshop. When you say big machines, it reminds me of 1937, ‘38, when he ordered what was to be Europe’s biggest press for that. He constructed many things himself, but this was too big to produce himself, because it can push 2000 kilo, or two tons, which was a lot of course at the time. The whole machine is 6, 7 meters high, and weighs more than 30 tons, so it’s an incredibly big machine. It was brought by boat from [unintelligible] through the fjord to get it out to the factory. They had to pull down the factory wall on one side to get it in the factory, and build the walls up again. It was measuring big machines, because that was needed, because Bakelite needed a lot of pressure in order to form, and it also required a lot of time. It takes a minute to bake a cabinet, where thermoplastic takes only seconds. So that was one big process. You had spectacular processes; I have a film from 1950 where they developed processes for the cabinet coating, and that is anodyzing. They were very far advanced in galvotechniques, electroplating gold, silver, cadmium, anodyzing aluminum, and circuitry became a process. They started with the cadmium and silver for the contact, because all the contacts of the pushbutton were silverplated in order to make good contact. Frankly, they did also this because they were out here in the boondocks. Denmark was industrialized 100 years after Sweden, which was industrialized 30 or 40 years after Germany, and this was agricultural country. You had to learn from other countries and you had to do it yourself because there were no subsuppliers, particularly here, so far away from Copenhagen. At that time there were the little veldt and the big veldt; you had to go by several areas in order to get to Copenhagen, and even Copenhagen, was not very industrialized; it was commercial.

Nebeker:

Then it’s all the more remarkable that they succeeded as they did.

Bang:

I wouldn’t say that. When I was a child people were educating me that in Denmark we would always be poorer than the Swedes, because the Swedes had steel and coal and they had the basic things. We had nothing in Denmark. This was the general idea, that if you didn’t have the raw material you would always be second in line to industrialize. Maybe that was true in the beginning, but today it’s almost the opposite. Those who had the big heavy steel mills are old fashioned. You can now buy steel from the Third World. So I don’t think it is necessarily a disadvantage. In the theoretical textbook, they would say that, but if you are the one who wants to do something, then you figure out another way of accomplishing it. By your lack, if you don’t have that material, then you get that material; if someone can’t do it that way, then the industrious person, always finds a way, if he has a will to do it. He’s not stopped by formalistic things like lack of infrastructure, lack of things. Of course they do hinder things, but then you have to do it yourself, and in doing so you find out sometimes better ways of doing it. If you are the type who goes out and studies, curiously, how other people do it, then you learn that some of your methods are better and some are not, and then you exchange ideas.

That’s another reason. People in this part of the country have an inferiority complex towards people in Copenhagen, which is the capital of Denmark. Therefore people in Struer, in the ‘20s and ‘30s, had to go out in the world and study. They hate to be called backwards people in the boondocks, so they wanted to compare themselves with the best. So they never went to Copenhagen; they went to London and Berlin, and they went to America to study. In ‘25, after the war, my father again went with all his people to America to study, they went over Copenhagen to the metropolises of the world, where the best things were available. Because then they knew better than the people in Copenhagen, because they had been to the bigger cities. So in a way, people who are way out in the boondocks -- you see that in the textile industry too --somehow overcome that handicap by going beyond what is common, in order to compensate, in order to learn from the best. Because they want to be the best, and maybe they want to prove that, although they have lived in rural areas, they are informed, they are educated, they are up to the world standard.

WWII and the radio market

Nebeker:

I read that during World War Two, the radio market actually improved in Denmark. The company did well?

Bang:

The company did well, and every year during the war, they made an extension to the factory.

Nebeker:

This is for the domestic market that they were producing?

Bang:

This was only for the domestic market.

Nebeker:

Do you think there was a large increase in the number of people owning radios during the war? Maybe everyone felt that he ought to have a radio.

Bang:

The interest in radio obviously went to a maximum, because when you are isolated, occupied by the Germans, you cannot travel, you cannot move, and you have censorship. Then you really value your ability to sit in your home at night, with the curtains down, listening to the BBC and having information about what is really going on, because what you get from the Germans is distorted; it’s Goebbels’s propaganda. So the urge, the need, for information, is much, much higher, just like in the Gulf War, when Americans were all plastered to the television. I had a boat in the Caribbean, renting it out to Americans, and during the Gulf War, nobody went to it, because they were looking to CNN to see what was happening. This was the situation of the public in Denmark, that the interest in information was much bigger. The need for entertainment was also bigger, because you could not assemble, there was a curfew. You could not go out in the evening, so you could not go out to the theater, to a concert, to church. You could not go anywhere after five o’clock in the evening.

Nebeker:

Is that right?

Bang:

Yes, because when people run around in the dark, you don’t know what they are doing. So the occupation forces said, "There’s a curfew at night; you cannot go out; you cannot assemble," because if you assemble, you can do something...

Nebeker:

Dangerous.

Bang:

Dangerous! You can talk, you can form, something. So first the need is obviously much bigger, for both information and entertainment. Secondly, it’s at a time when radio in a way is fully developed.

[End of tape one, side two. ]

Impact of WWII on radio technology, Bang and Olufsen

Bang:

But then, a very important feature was that it should not use too much current. So you had all kinds of circuits where you lowered the filaments. The volume control was almost the amount of current you put through the filament. So that you never heated the tubes and took up more energy than necessary to listen to...

Nebeker:




Was this developed during the war for that reason?

Bang:

Right. All the B&O radios from ‘40, ‘41, ‘42, ‘43, ‘44, have these features of saving current.

Nebeker:

Now, was it just that electricity was so expensive, or was it actually sort of rationed?

Bang:

It was rationed, which is the same thing. So when you only have a little of it, you want to save it. But I never really understood how they could go on producing, because where did they get the raw materials from? I think it was tubes from Holland, from [unintelligible], which were not made in Denmark. They didn’t make tubes in Denmark. My father had experienced the First World War too. My mother tells me there that in ‘38 he somehow felt what was coming, as you could see what Hitler was doing. You could listen to him; he was almost bragging about what he was out to do, and other people didn’t believe it. But actually, he said exactly what he was going to do, in ‘36, ‘37, ‘38, over the radio. My father feared that he would do it, because we all feared the Germans of course, so he built a big wooden structure where he did something you are not allowed to do. We called it "hamstering."

Nebeker:

Stockpiling?

Bang:

Yes, stockpiling raw materials, because he thought that they would be scarce in the future. So he stockpiled mainly tubes in big, big quantities...

Nebeker:

That was very wise.

Bang:

That turned out to be a good idea. So the fact is that turnover and everything under the war went ahead every year.

Nebeker:

What, so the German authorities...[interruption]

Bang:

Half of it was these cinemas, because they were --

Nebeker:

They were probably --

Bang:

They were the only form of entertainment ordinary people could afford. That was the cinema.

Nebeker:

Did the Germans interfere in the running of the company?

Bang:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Did they require military production, for example?

Bang:

Yes, actually, they did. The problem was that they knew that most of the employees were working in the underground, and therefore they came and demanded... The other radio companies were working for the Germans. Making radios for the civilian industry was not a purpose for the Wehrmacht. They wanted you to make military equipment for them. Bang and Olufsen didn’t want to do that, and therefore they came all the time, and put pressure on the company to be more cooperative, as it was called. Denmark had a funny status; we were called a puppet of Germany, because the Germans had decided that we were Aryan people, which we were, in their definition. [laughter] We didn’t think we were like them, but we were Aryan, and therefore we were the good white persons’ breed which belonged to the new world order, and therefore they tried to be very friendly and cooperative, and they couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t cooperate, because, they treated us very nicely. But of course it became worse and worse under the war. It particularly became worse because it was difficult to hide that practically all the engineers and a lot of other people at Bang and Olufsen worked in the resistance movement, running out at night and picking up weapons coming from the air from the British at night, and hiding them, and blowing up railroads, and hindering the Germans, doing resistance. The Germans somehow knew that, even though it was of course difficult to prove. When you have an underground movement, and when you have war, then communications is, as seen in the Gulf War, essential. For the underground movement, the problem was that you had to communicate, and the only way you could communicate with England was by radio, and it was done by Morse. Obviously it was done at wave frequencies which were known to everybody, including the Germans, who had very sophisticated radio equipment with which they could --

Nebeker:

Scan.

Bang:

They could not only scan, they could also --

Nebeker:

Do directional finding.

Bang:

Directional finding, and by doing both of those, they could say that the radio was at that and that coordinate, and within ten or twenty minutes from the start of your emission, they found you. That was all that you could do, and it’s very limited what you can get in ten minutes of Morse. The man who organized that was a man called Hansen, the chief engineer of Bang and Olufsen in Copenhagen. He organized that, and he built it. You had to run with your equipment. The British dumped radio receivers down here, for the resistance movement, and they laughed, because there was big equipment which was supposed to be carried in a car, and nobody had cars. You had a bike. So Mr. Hansen constructed a radio transmitter and receiver, which was the size of a telephone book, which you could put in a kind of bag which everybody had at the time. It was supposed to be put on the rear of your bike, and everybody had that kind of bag, so that was not --

Nebeker:

It wasn’t suspicious.

Magnetic recording

Bang:

Right. He constructed it in that format, and he built fifty of them for the underground movement, and through those, when they transmitted for ten minutes they could put it down, and fold it up, and run. But then it was very limited, and when the traffic grew, it became a problem. Then, because it was telegraph, he took a paper tape, with small holes for the Morse, and he could run at ten times the speed, and the British could record it on a lacquer plate, and run it ten times slower, and then they could decode it. But the problem was that it was not only the information from here to London, it was also the information from London to here which grew, and you couldn’t run around with a lacquer recording studio in your pocket.

Nebeker:

This is Hansen?

Bang:

Yes. So he said, "Aha! Now I can use a wire recorder because that was intended for exactly that. If I record high speed telegraphy from England, I can record it. This unit is this big. I can run away, I can sit at home, and run it at ten times lower speed, and decode, so we can run high speed telegraphy from England to here." Then, he goes to the museum and gets one of these machines, and then he needs some more....

Nebeker:

He actually took one of these from a museum?

Bang:

It was from the Aarhus museum, from a kind of military establishment museum. The people in the resistance movement were often officers in the former military, because they had the know-how. Then he needed more wires, because there was only one wire left, and that from a bank which had a bank meeting from 1926 recorded on it, so he needed some wire. It said, it has to have certain magnetic properties.

Nebeker:

Okay.

Bang:

He found out what the magnetic properties of the wire were, specified with the size and the length and the reels and everything, and he sent that to London with a courier over Sweden. In a week you could bring in a kayak to Sweden, and then take the message up to Stockholm, and then via airplane to London. He said, "Please send ten rolls of wire," and so on. The British got very angry, and they immediately sent back information by Morse, saying, "Mr. Hansen, come immediately to London." That’s not so easy, to come immediately to London. You had to go down at night, and out in a very, very small boat, because all powerboats were confiscated by the Germans. You could hide a kayak, or a very, very small boat, inland, and then in dark you could bring it down, and you could roll it over the earth and sail to Sweden, and then you could pick up and go by rail to Stockholm, and then via airplane to London.

So Hansen gets to London, and he says, "What on earth are you calling me all the way to London for now, just because I need some rolls of wire?" They say, "Because you have leaked one of the biggest Second World War secrets." He said he didn’t leak anything; he just used a machine from 1898. "No sir, now you’ll see what you have done," and then they put him on an airplane to Chicago, and at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which is in the south part of Chicago, you had a company called Armour Research. For the military in America, Armour had invented magnetic recording. It wasn’t like the old wire recorder with a DC bias. It was with an AC bias, which was of course much better, seen from a signal to noise, and for other reasons.

They had developed it much further, and developed a military machine which was fairly compact, and which was a military secret. They had three samples in England, and therefore the British were scared that they had leaked this information, because this was top priority. Then he went to Chicago and told the Armour people that it wasn’t [unintelligible] who recommended it, it was [unintelligible], and then [unintelligible] was recognized at the Armour Institute for being the inventor of magnetic recording, which they honestly didn’t know. Mr. Hansen, was underground, and couldn’t come to the factory because he...

Nebeker:

He was in hiding?

Bang:

He was in hiding the last two years of the war, but if the Germans found somebody from the resistance movement they tortured them, and then they leaked information. You can find out what is going on, if you are intelligent, and the Germans was extremely intelligent people., They had all the technology equipment, everything needed, and the will, and the power, and the money -- everything. They found out that the only way this man could survive was if he got food, so they went to his home, and found his wife there, and found traces that he had been there one night or another, and they blew up his home. But he still operated, so he must have had other resources. They asked, "Where does he get funds from?" because you cannot live without money, when you are underground. Even underground you must have money, and they found out that he was still drawing his salary on his bank account, and that Bang and Olufsen was putting in his salary every month although he hadn’t been working for two years. That to them was a sure sign they’d found something. And then they blew up the factory as a punishment for the corporation.

Nebeker:

I see. I had wondered what specifically the motive was for the German retalitation.

Bang:

The motive was, it was evident that they could never persuade Bang and Olufsen to work for them, and they established, maybe not 100% proof, but enough evidence that the employees were all working in the underground, and that they were the leading post, leading people in the underground.

Corporations and WWII military production

Nebeker:

Do you know what military production the company actually had to do?

Bang:

No, not really, not really.

Nebeker:

But they were largely able to continue producing the radios and the sound --

Bang:

Yes. They never produced any military for the government.

Nebeker:

Oh, they didn’t produce any?

Bang:

Not at all, no.

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

But other companies did.

Nebeker: Right.

Bang:

And they were then blown up by the resistance movement, so all the radio companies were blown up, one way or the other. It didn’t matter which side you were on; you were always blown up at the end. [laughter].

German bombing of Bang & Olufsen

Nebeker:

I read that after the factory was completely destroyed there in early ‘45 --

Bang:

14th of January, 1945, yes. I wouldn’t have lived if it wasn’t for the bad workmanship of the Germans. They came in, and they mined the whole. They put in bombs and explosives in the whole factory, and they ignited the fuse, and then they drew away full speed to the south. They were sitting two kilometers south of Bang and Olufsen, and waiting for it to blow up, and it didn’t blow up, so they went back and found that there was a wrong fuse. But in the meantime, they had released the guards, and one of the guards came over to my father’s house, which was next to the factory, and said, “Better come up, because the whole thing will go off.” I was then put down in the basement, in the shelter there, and when I came up from the shelter, the whole house and Bang and Olufsen were gone, and the bed I had been lying in was crunched by a wall falling down on it, so if it wasn’t for that fuse, then I wouldn’t have been living today. So I remember the 14th of January very well.

Nebeker:

Were there other children in your family?

Bang:

Yes; I have two sisters and a brother.

Nebeker:

What happened then, did you have another house that you could move to?

Bang:

No. Again, maybe this was typical for Mr. Olufsen and Mr. Bang that they feared all these things happening, but they were constructive in the sense that they said, "Well, we had better prepare for if it happens." So they had taken all the construction drawings and vital information, and hidden it in basements and other places. In Christoff, which was a mile south of Struer where we lived, my mother and Mrs. Olufsen had organized a survival kit in our basement, meaning food, medicine, things needed that you couldn’t get, things actually bought before the war. Somehow my father knew, maybe from the First World War, because he had experienced once before, so he had stockpiled everything you needed [laughter], for four or five years! Underground. So when this happened, and the house exploded, in the middle of the winter, we went down in our basement and dug out. I remember there was so much glass, windows and debris and everything, that we had to shovel our way out of the driveway. You couldn’t have gasoline, so you couldn’t drive the car during the war, but my father had built an electric car, having learned that in America, in the ‘20s, so he had a small Fiat electrical car, which he had built himself, a Fiat ‘39. Then we could drive all the way to Christof with our family, to where we had our stockpiles.

Nebeker:

So did you live there for --

Bang:

Oh we lived there for six weeks or so. And then we came back, and the whole house was filled. There were 100 people there, because in order to rebuild the company, you had to tear down the ruins, the bricks, and you had to see if you could save some machinery, or whatever you could get out of the ruins. For that there was a civil military in [unintelligible], and they were called up, and they lived in our home. My home was fairly big, so we put hay in the rooms, and they would just sleep there, and my mother was cooking them three meals a day.

Nebeker:

This was in the house next to the factory?

Bang:

Yes. So then you used wood for blocking the windows, and then you started a little chimney somewhere, a little heat, and then you got slowly organized and got back to life again.

Bang and Olufsen factory construction, 1946

Nebeker:

I see. I understand that the building of the new factory went fairly fast, about a year later.

Bang:

Which was incredible, because you could not get any new materials. But that was a funny experience, because my father came from Copenhagen, and coming from Copenhagen to Struer is like coming from Boston to somewhere in the Midwest fifty years ago. You are a stranger, because you talk in a funny Boston accent, nobody can understand you, and they don’t want to understand you, either! [laughter]. My father was always a foreigner here. He was respected because he accomplished something, but he wasn’t one of them: he was a stranger. But then when this thing happened, he was one of them, because now he had proven he was on the right side of the enemy. Now there was an enemy who said, "You and us". Now it was not Jutland versus Copenhagen, it was Germany versus Denmark. Because it was known that they had resisted the Germans, and it was also known that they were the backbone of the resistance movement, they were very popular in Denmark. So when this happened in January ‘45, curious things happened. People just came or mailed us and said, "Here’s a wrench. I know you need everything, I’ll give you this, and I’ll give you that," so whatever people had of value -- tools, a block of wood, some old bricks from a house torn down, on a horse carriage they transported them up, and said, "You can have these bricks. I know they are not very good, but they are better than nothing." So that factory was built in a year, but it was built with material which was broken down from all other places. There were no brick factories, there were no lumber imports, there was no steel, or you couldn’t buy the material, so it came from all over Denmark, from people who said, "I would like to help you, because you did the right thing." So if you were to go into that building and take it down, you would see that it’s all kinds of sizes that are put together in a funny way, because it's got different sized components.

Nebeker:

That’s interesting.

Bang:

It was built late at night, in the middle of the winter. They built all night, which was unusual at the time, but there was a circus up here which had some --

Nebeker:

Spotlights or searchlights?

Bang:

Very big circus spotlights, you know, hanging in the middle of the circus. They were not using them in the winter, because the circus is only in the summer in Denmark because of the climate, so they borrowed those, and they put them up in masts so they could build around the clock. I don’t know where they got it from, but they got enough alcohol to put it in the mortar, so although it was minus 10 degrees, they could still build. Normally you cannot build under zero. So they were in a hurry; they wanted to get this new factory up in a hurry.

Nebeker:

And they succeeded.

Bang:

They succeeded.

Nebeker:

It was completed by early February of ‘46.

Bang:

Some of it was.

Postwar products; magnetic recorder, tape recorders

Nebeker:

What about those postwar years? I noticed one new product was this magnetic recorder.

Bang:

The end of the story was, when Hansen came to Chicago to Armour Research, he begged them, because he could see that their model was much better. Mainly it was AC recording, but also because it was built for military purposes, more compact, and of course they had electronic tubes. They wouldn’t let him do that, but in the end he persuaded them to send one to Sweden, and then eventually he would get one over to Copenhagen. But when the European war was over in May ‘45, the unit was still in Sweden, so on the day of the liberation he moved over to Sweden, and picked up this prototype by Armour Research, which the factory still has, and then they started constructing a civilian version of it.

Nebeker:

Did they get a license from Armour?

Bang:

Yes, they did. They went to Armour after the war many times, because Armour knew a lot about it. Armour Institute was very well-founded technologically. It was at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They also had Army contracts during the war.

Nebeker:

Is that related to the Armour Meat Packing?

Bang:

I think it was.

Nebeker:

I know of Armour meats.

Bang:

During the war, because of their money, or facilities, or something, or because they were located at the Illinois Institute of Technology, it was called the Armour Research Laboratory. I visited it myself; it was highly technical. They were in the forefront of recording all the way, in the ‘40s, the ‘50s, and until Sony took over. So Bang and Olufsen got a license, they got technology from Armour, they got friends (because we talk very well together of course), and then they started producing magnetic recorders.

Nebeker:

In 1948, I believe it was.

Bang:

Yes. Then it went to the market, so it took several years just to...

Nebeker:

I guess it was ‘47, that BOCord began.

Bang:

It started as a dictating machine for lawyers and so on, because they were fascinated by the technology, and the ability to record voice, but there was still no consumer market, there were no consumer market, so we did it for semi-professional people who went to Africa or the Arctic. They could bring it to make recordings, because it was more compact than a record cutting studio, which was a big bulky thing. This you could take on a ship and run it on twelve volts, and you could record all over the world. But it was semi-professional.

Nebeker:

Now, a few years later, ‘52, there was a tape recorder that the company produced.

Bang:

Right.

Nebeker:

The BOCord tape recorder.

Bang:

That was a natural evolution, and came from Armour too. Armour built tape recorders, which was actually a German invention, except that the Germans did it on paper, and Armour had 3M close to them, so they did it on plastic tape.

Nebeker:

Did that achieve much success in the ‘50s, the tape recorder?

Bang:

Commercially, no, but it was not the best period for Bang and Olufsen, because Mr. Linnert and Mr. Lauerson had gone, the two key people, the key commercial and the key technical persons. They went their own way, and built their own company, Lauerson and Linnert.

Nebeker:

What year?

Bang:

Oh, ‘46, right after the war.

Nebeker:

I see.

Corporate restructuring, 1940s-1950s; deaths of Olufsen and Bang

Bang:

So there was a drain of power, there was a lack of continuity among key people, and Mr. Olufsen died in ‘49. My father got sick, so the company was kind of in a limbo. But then they had a funny thing happen; it wouldn’t happen today, but it happened at that time. Mr. Hansen, and another man called Mattson, and those people who were in the forefront of the resistance movement, knew the company was destroyed because of what they had done, so somehow they felt a responsibility. I know it’s not credible when I say it, but I know these people, and they felt a responsibility to pay something back to the company, to rebuild the company. So they started rebuilding whatever they could, and it was natural that they did it with what abilities they best had. Therefore Mr. Hansen started tape recordings, first still, and then plastic tape, and Mr. Mattson started building speakers and cartridges and microphones. So if you see it from a technical point of view, it was a very, very fertile period in the late ‘40s and the beginning of the ‘50s. Bang and Olufsen built some of the best cartridges in the world, some of the best speakers, some of the best ribbon microphones, which were in the United Nations building. When the United Nations was young, in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, on the podium were Bang and Olufsen microphones. They built some of the best components. Again, they went back to components. The tape recorder was also important if you were doing state of the art stereo or microphones, and with tape, you could make stereo recording. So already in the late ‘50s they recorded stereo. Some of the first stereo recording was done on Bang and Olufsen tape recorders.

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

So from a technical and recognition point of view, it was a rich period, but from a commercial one, it was in limbo, because things fell apart with distribution and management.

Nebeker:

You say that your father became ill.

Bang:

Yes.

Nebeker:

When was that?

Bang:

Late ‘40s, beginning of the ‘50s.

Nebeker:

Did he recover?

Bang:

No, he died of it. They both died. Mr. Olufsen died in ‘49, and my father died in 1957.

Nebeker:

So he didn’t have a large role in the company in the ‘50s?

Bang:

Those people I’m talking about, they say he did, because they say that he was the one who, when the board said, "We have to cut down expenses," didn’t want to fire the engineers, so he was the one who allowed the next generation to do the experimentation. They played with what they liked; it was not because there was a big need for it in the market. Of course, they changed that, but it was because they liked to do the ribbon microphone, they liked to do magnetic recording, they liked to do technology, state of the art things. You could say it was because the commercial department was too weak, and they say that my father protected them from being fired, and they considered him as very important. But it was a period which something had to happen because the company was out of balance. Or on its way to becoming out of balance. Not technically, but from a business point of view.

Nebeker:

Yes, the top management.

Bang:

Yes. They died, they disappeared, but then on the other hand, this allowed a new generation to start from scratch, building new state of the art components, building new apparatuses. Therefore, I think you can talk about a next generation of Bang and Olufsen, because actually they started from scratch, with new people who had to make their own mistakes. After ten years of that, they built state of the art equipment again. Some of them said to me, "You have to face it; when we were asked to take over, we were not ready for it. We had just been doing what Mr. Linnert and Mr. Bang told us. It was a lot of fun, but we never understood why we were asked to do it." Sometimes somebody has stood next in command to the chief, and he doesn’t know exactly what the chief does. He does know what the chief does, but he never thinks about why he does it, because he just has to do what the chief asks him to do. And then when he is alone, he doesn’t know how. That you have to learn from scratch, and they learned that, and that was an investment, you can say, for the big explosion in the ‘60s.

Nebeker:

Now...

Bang:

And the key component in the ‘60s was these elements, the cartridges. Not the wire recorder, but it was record players which were the most important.

Jens Bang's education and employment

Nebeker:

You told me you went to the technical university in Copenhagen.

Bang:

Yes.

Nebeker:

When did you graduate?

Bang:

‘58.

Nebeker:

‘58. What did you do then?

Bang:

Then I got married. [laughter] Then I went back to Struer, and I worked half a year. There was a time lag between when I was hired at GE, and when I got my permit to go to America. You couldn’t just go to America; you had to have an immigration permit, a work permit, and all that. Everybody wanted to go to America. We had a [unintelligible] in Scandinavia, and particularly in Denmark, so it was easy, but it still took half a year.

Nebeker:

I know the Technical University had a very good reputation in their training, and GE saw a chance to get a good, young engineer. What did you do in that half year you worked here at Struer?

Bang:

Like everybody, I was asked to construct measuring equipment. [laughter] Because my boss, Mr. Thorsen, said --

[break in recording]

Bang:

I was educated at Technical University, and I was educated as one of the first engineers in transistors, so I knew everything about transistors at a time when everybody was only using tubes. So I came back and I thought I was going to do something with transistors, because there was nobody who knew anything about transistors, but my boss said, "If you don’t start doing something with tubes, you’ll never know how difficult it is with tubes," so I was asked to do test equipment with tubes. I made a stabilized power supply for tubes, which is kind of an eliminator, if you like, but a very advanced one, which could do a lot of things, and which I still have at home, by the way. It’s interesting to see it, because that’s where anodized aluminum and all that came in. I had designed it technically, and its appearance, and everything. But it was sort of typical that you couldn’t trust a young engineer with anything but test equipment. So I also did a little converter. At that time, Denmark was converting from DC power to AC power on the mains, and I did a little converter so you could run DC phonographs on AC.

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

But that was just a small thing.

Jens Bang's work at GE

Nebeker:

Now, can you summarize, I’m afraid we have to do this rapidly here, the work you did for GE?

Bang:

Oh, it was a hell of an interesting period in my life, coming from Denmark to America in 1959. I mean your salary as an engineer tripled, it was like coming to technical heaven. America was known and was way ahead of everybody else, so this was very, very exciting to move over there. I was put in Albany New York, where I used the first six months building magnetic cartridges for GE, and hi-fi equipment and so on, but then GE decided in Schenectady that they were going to fold up hi-fi because that was not commercial, and they wanted to go into the phonograph business, which they were not in at the time. That was the big coming commercial thing. They were going to do it big, so they hired 800 people, from all over America, and I came from Europe, together with many Europeans, and we were put in Decatur, Illinois. Why? Because Decatur Illinois had two things you needed in the theory of GE to make a commercial success. There was a big World War II Army depot, 15 acres under roof, with no windows, where they stockpiled supplies during the Second World War, because there the Germans couldn’t get them. Now they were empty, so they could hire or buy them, I don’t remember, for almost nothing. So there was the building.

Nebeker:

That was to be the factory.

Bang:

That was the factory. And there was big unemployment, so labor rates were probably competitive. Then you moved all these engineers out there, to Decatur, Illinois, the soy capital of the world. It smelled of soy beans. [laughter] Then we set up, and this was fantastic. You come together, young people, and you have to build a community, not only a factory and organization, but you also have to build a community, where you can privately socialize, and play tennis and golf. You have to build all that.

Nebeker:

Were you actually living in Decatur?

Bang:

All of us were living in Decatur.

Nebeker:

And this was a much larger group than existed there ahead of time.

Bang:

There was nothing before. There was nobody. Zero. We all came at the same date.

Nebeker:

No one was in Decatur?

Bang:

Nobody. Absolutely nobody. We were assigned to start on the 5th of May, 1960, and we got to know that they had assigned rooms at different hotels to us. Then we simply packed our things from New York, and we drove out there, and our goods were shipped and stored, and we lived in the hotels, the first, obviously, for two or three weeks, until we could get apartments, or rooms, until we could put it all together. When you all come as new settlers, the welcome wagon comes, and it’s just like going West. It’s very, very exciting, and then we started this. To make a long story short, in three years, because GE had never built phonographs except maybe way back in the ‘30s, but not for last ten years, we went from a market share of zero to being the biggest producer in America.

Nebeker:

What was your part?

Bang:

The Hammond Company had made a delay system, and if you delay sound more than .1 second, then the [unintelligible] effect tells you that you can pick up some of the different signals between the two channels. If you delay it more than 100 milliseconds, and amplify it, and put it on two rear speakers, you can have ambience subjective of the sound and produced to the ears, the brain, so that you have the room information, so you have a kind of depth, the ambience. Our radiograms had to have this, and I was asked to go out to the Hammond Company and develop that circuit. I developed their electronics, and Hammond built the mechanical part, which is a spring, and a torsional thing, which gives a time delay of audio signals. That was my first job. I almost had six weeks to do that, because this was a pioneering stage.

Then FM stereo came along. We had the stereo record, invented in ‘48, and it was highly commercial in the late ‘50s and the beginning of the ‘60s; that was the media of radiograms. But then you had 800 FM stations in America at the time, and obviously you wanted to go stereo there too. Then there was a Hungarian fellow, called Tony [unintelligible]. He also came over after the Hungarian revolution, and I worked with him, and he developed the FM stereo system. I then took part in building the equipment. And there again, this was a fantastic experience. You fight for having your system approved by the FCC. As I already told you, our system was a FM/AM system, which had a 12 db signal to noise ratio from Mr. Crosby, who had an AM/FM system, and therefore, it was almost winning, but then my boss told the FCC that this was highly theoretical, because at a time when radios had 3 1/2, or at maximum 4 1/2, tube receivers, you couldn’t have 5-6 tubes for making a wide band FM detector for the subcarrier to the zero signal. The FCC bought the idea, but the only problem is --

Nebeker:

His argument was that your system could be made with fewer tubes.

Bang:

His argument to the FCC in order to win after he lost the test, was that his new system could be built with one tube, where the other would take many tubes to build. He had never built any decoder with less than four tubes, so this was very theoretical. But then, my story was that I thought that was cheating. First, he promoted a system which technically was not the best, and you can see that today, because today, with ICs and transistors, it would have been much better if we had had Mr. Crosby’s system. But at the time, there were only tubes in radios. So first I think he was very unethical by promoting a technically less superior, absolutely inferior system to the best, which was FM/FM. I didn’t like him for that, because I was into very high tech industry at the time, very young, right out of university. Secondly, I knew he didn’t know how to build a one-tube decoder. Then I started out to prove that he couldn’t do it, and in order to do that, you have to try your best, and I tried my best and found out that I could do it. I put it down in a drawing, and his argument won. The GE Zenith system was approved. I remember, my father-in- law died and I went on an airplane, a DC-4, with propellers. It took 14 hours to cross the Atlantic, and you became seasick, because you went at low altitudes, and you have storms, and you have a big bag, where you threw up all the time. I went back to Copenhagen with my wife, buried my father-in-law, and then I went back --

[End of tape two, side one.]

Nebeker:

Okay.

Bang:

Then on the way back, these 14 hours, you read Time magazine, if you were a little bit better educated. [laughter] That was what was on the airplane, and there I read that the FCC had approved the system. Hello! And I knew when I came back to Decatur they would be screaming and yelling and demanding that we go into production in three weeks, because that’s the way GE works. It’s not only that you don’t have a construction, but you also don’t have have test equipment, because there’s no station. Again, you have to go back. "Where do you get test equipment?" "Oh, Mr. [unintelligible] was planning to do a modulator." "But when will it come?" "Oh, probably within the next half year." [laughter] So you have to engineer test equipment, decoders, and everything. You work around the clock, because it’s expected of you. I thought it was fun, of course, and I had the background, theoretical and practical, to do it. I did it. Finally you’re finished, you have the test equipment, you have the decoders, you have the construction, you ordered the materials, and it goes into production, and you go out there and the belt is running with 400 units a day.

The foreman calls me in and says, "Jens come out and teach the repair and test people to do these funny things; they don’t know a damn thing about it!" And you go out there, and then you start pasting up the diagram, and telling them, "You see, if that doesn’t work, then you have to measure the voltage there and there, and if that doesn’t fit with there and there, it’s probably there and there," and so on. This was tubes again. After one day, maybe a day and a half, but I doubt more than one day, the foreman, comes out and says, "Jens, I can’t have you out here in my factory. Will you please go back to the lab?" So I have failed. I couldn’t make the belt run. Then after 48 hours, and two days later, he comes back and says, "Jens, come out and see." I come out, and I see the belt is running with 400 units a day. I asked how it happened. A worker says, "Oh, it’s very simple. You see, Jens, if that output channel is gone, I pluck that component. If there’s no [unintelligible], the oscillator wave suppress carrier, then I know it’s this component." She had made pattern recognition, and knew. This was the day of tubes where you plucked tubes. I mean, she had learned by experience, teaching herself, that if it failed this point in the test, it was 90% likely the problem was with this component, and if it failed in that, it was 90% likely it was that component. There were three or four main failures, and then she just did that, and when she couldn’t fix it, then she put it aside. Then it could be taken care of later. Experienced crafstmanship. Then I learned the difference between a theoretical approach, and an engineer’s approach. In Europe, you had technicians who were taught for four years for that, and here was girl from outside that didn’t know anything. They had no education at all, but they were tube pluckers, and they were much more efficient, because it was pattern recognition. So the line was running.

My next fiasco was, I also had to teach all the servicemen. They brought 500 servicemen from all over America, down to Louisiana, because this was a great kickoff. I had to teach them for a whole day, and I taught them about subcarriers, and matrix, and sum and difference, and addition and multiplication, and I thought I was doing great. They clapped very politely as they do in America. Then in the evening, we had a gorgeous dinner, down to the Mississippi River, and I felt fairly good, because I thought, "Mission accomplished," until a nice fellow next to me says, "Jens, I like you very much. But I’ll tell you the fact; There wasn’t one goddamned man in there who understood a damn thing of what you were saying. I mean, subcarriers and suppressed carriers, and multiplexing, and what were all these words? We have never heard any of them. We didn’t understand a damn iota of what you were saying, but we like you very much, and we’ll try to do your thing, but it’s very difficult, because we don’t know what on earth it is, for a piece of equipment you made." I didn’t sleep all night, and then I stood up in the morning. The next morning they had to have breakfast, before they went home to their places in America. I thought, "If they don’t know anything, at least I have to give them the idea that they think they understand something, and then they can do this tube plucking like the girls on the assembly line." So I stood up the next morning, and I said, "Gentlemen, I understand I have confused you, because really our problem is that we only have one FM transmitter, and we only have one radio, and it’s only one channel, and we want to have two signals through one channel. So we have two microphones, but only one transmitter. We have two speakers, but only one receiver. So what we’re doing is very simple. We divide the time of our transmitter between left to right, half to each, and we divide our receiver’s signal, and half to each by time division. Half the time we send the signal to the right speaker, and half to the left, and then we synchronize these two switches by a pilot, who synchronizes the switches, and if we switch them so fast, 90 kilohertz, so nobody can hear it, then the left microphone will go to the left speaker, the right to the right, and we have done it." Ahhhhh! [makes clapping sounds]. So again it works. Because they don’t need to know how it works. They must only think they know how it works so they can pluck the tubes like the girl at the assembly line. So there in an age of what was that, two years after university, I learned that the consumer need is more important, because it’s more important that you can do it with one tube, than is having the best technical solution. For the serviceman, it’s not so important that he understands everything in mathematical terms; it’s important that he feels confident that he can fix it. So I learned an awful lot in those four years.

Jens Bang's product management career at Bang and Olufsen

Nebeker:

So you came back to Denmark after --

Bang:

Then I came back, and then luckily I had all that know-how, so we could build FM stereo receivers and decoders.

Nebeker:

At Bang and Olufsen?

Bang:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And was that when they first started producing those here at Bang and Olufsen?

Bang:

Yes, almost a year later we produced it.

Nebeker:

But is that the way it came, your coming to the company?

Bang:

No, not necessarily. It spread all over the world. This FM stereo system became the world standard, and still is. It’s the only standard I know about, within this industry, which 35 years later remains unchanged. Ten years from now, the majority of FM stereo receivers all over the world will be that way. Of course, we will have digital this and that, but out in Africa and India and all these places, every household all over the world will have one stereo system in the boat, and one in the car. Maybe they will have two cars, and they have one portable stereo, and one stationary, and one Walkman. So my stereo decoder is produced and sold by the millions, per year. It’s one of the only standards in the system which hasn’t been changed. In other industries, there’s another standard in France and another one in America, and another one in Greenland, but here you have a world standard.

Nebeker:

Yes. That’s impressive.

Bang:

It happened with the CD again. But it’s very rare that you have the same system all over.

Nebeker:

So it was something like ‘62 that you came back to Denmark.

Bang:

‘63.

Nebeker:

‘63 you came back here. What position did you take?

Bang:

I was asked to be product manager, because the company was doing reasonably well, but they had the classical problem that when the engineers come forward with the good ideas, the commercial people say, "Ah, I don’t think so," because of competition. So I was asked to solve that problem, a typical problem between engineering and sales, or better, between marketing and development. The company felt that that was a hell of a problem. They couldn’t make decisions. Of course, they had a product committee, but the product committee would only argue and could never make decisions, so the engineers were held up, and commercial people didn’t get new products.

Nebeker:

So this is a time when the transistor was coming into play.

Bang:

The company had already produced the portable transistorized equipment, where it started in the portable area. In Danish it’s called a transistor radio, meaning a portable radio. Is it called that in English, too? But you don’t use “short transistor?"

Nebeker:

In the United States, we say a transistor radio.

Bang:

Because the first Sony ones were transistors, which were transistor radios. So it was generic with technology and products. They had already done that, but I was asked to be a product planner. That was something I learned in GE, because they had formal product planning, a skill which is still unheard of in Europe. I’ve been teaching it at the Illinois Institute of Technology recently. Now it’s a formal skill in America, but at that time it was practiced in America, particularly at GE, because GE was way ahead of others in many areas, at the time. I became the product planner, and I was actually a translator between the needs of the consumer and what could be done technically.

1960s Bang and Olufsen corporate growth, products

Nebeker:

Now the ‘60s was a decade of very rapid growth for the company.

Bang:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And also a lot of products were introduced in that decade.

Bang:

Yes. Right.

Nebeker:

I know of one change. I read about the BOMaster 900, that very successful radio that had this low, sleek design. That was made possible because transistors were --

Bang:

No, not really, but that’s what we claimed. I’ve always been taught that when you communicate with the customer, there are two things you have to come through with. The most important is to come through with his desire for the product. The best way you can make him desire a product is to make a beautiful color picture of an attractive product, with a girl or a fast car, and then that will arouse his desire to get that product. Then you should say, "But that’s not enough." You also must give him justification. Because it’s not enough that he wants to have that beautiful boat there; if he comes back and says, "I bought the most beautiful boat you’ve ever seen." His wife will say, "But why?" You have to justify that you bought a product. When your neighbors come in and say, "Oh, you’ve got a Bang and Olufsen. It’s beautiful, but what can it do?", you must have justification for what it can do. The justification for that radio, which was very desirable, was that it was transistorized. It was incredible that you could make a radio which sounded extremely good, because it had two, that radio, it wasn’t because it was transistorized, it was because it had two closed speaker pressure chambers, so you would have incredible good sound out of very very slim, and everybody has been told that big sound is big speaker at the time. Now it’s changing. But at that time there was a popular [unintelligible], everybody taught everybody that if you had big sound, you had big speakers [unintelligible]. This was hammered into the mind of the consumer. So if you came with something, and he could hear it sounded good, he knew this was false, because it couldn’t be so, so you needed justification. And you also needed justification for the low. So we said the reason is, we put a miracle component, the transistor into it. And it takes so little room there’s a place for the speaker in the whole compartment. Which, in a way there were. But that was the justification. Because, if you go in Bang and Olufsen’s catalog, you can see they have made lower radios with tubes before.

Nebeker:

Is that right? And this high quality, these high quality speakers, would they have been possible in a fully tube set?

Bang:

Yes. Of course. Of course. Because they were [unintelligible] speakers. You could have done that with speak-, that was-

Nebeker:

So from the consumer standpoint, you could have produced this BOmaster 900 entirely with tubes?

Bang:

Except one thing, which was that there were, there was, there were three things which a consumer reacted on. First the appearance, low and elegant, it could fit on a shelf, and that time, everybody in Denmark had shelves. It didn’t go in England, because people didn’t have shelves in their rooms. But everywhere where you had shelves, this fitted into a shelf, it was called a shelf radio. That was the appearance, the concept, the layout of the whole thing. Secondly, it sounded damn good, and that was because of the very clever speaker engineering, back to Bang and Olufsen’s fundamental. Third, it had two times six watts, it had fairly good amplifiers in relation to what was available at the time, where you had class A tubes, so this was pushed [unintelligible], it was better, more powerful, no doubt about it, but the third thing which caught the consumer was when you touch, and we had done like Bang and Olufsen normally do, you had an on/off switch, a volume control, a channel selector, and a dial, so you have to do four things to get your station, but we put everything in one bottom push button row, so you had off, and if you pushed off, you erased everything else. And if you pushed FM, then you got FM, AM and AM, so that it was easier to operate than other people’s. And what really struck people was that when they pushed the buttons, like in ‘39, then you got sound.

Nebeker:

Immediately.

Bang:

Immediately. At that time, a tube, you had to wait 42 to 46 seconds to get the tube to heat up. And you got this soft fade-in, which was part of the radio days. [laughter] But this was instant, instant sound, and that was of course at a period when people got more stressed to have it instantly was better than to have to wait on it. So transistors was part of, it wasn’t crucial, but it was part of the success.

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

But it was mainly part of the justification, because you know that sense, and I framed it for one reason, to be credible, because it was not credible, and you still had 19 competitors which had not done this one, and they, including Mr. Linnert, which was bigger than Bang and Olufsen, and he could tell what was true, that actually it was not as good a radio as was juiced [?], because selectivity and all that was a problem, as it was in the early days with transistors. So all competitors use all their arguments that this was a very bad radio. And in fact they were true. But it had something that the consumer wanted, so in order to give the consumer justification, towards all the attacks of people who says you shouldn’t buy that radio, it’s just smart. You have to have, and they couldn’t beat that one, because they didn’t have transistors, so when, when, when we said it was because it was transistorized, competition couldn’t have, could only, they have to transistorize theirs too, because consumer understood that that was the key to success.

Nebeker:

Thing of the future.

Bang:

That’s the thing, modern technology.

Nebeker:

I’m afraid we don’t have a lot of time, and I wanted to ask you about what other products came in in your time as-

Bang:

Oh, that came almost before I came, because it came on the verge, when I came back. My only contribution to that was, I built in a stereo decoder so it could go stereo. Because it was only stereo from a record player. But then I started immediately, because I worked for GE in the hi-fi department, I was fascinated by Scott and Fisher in America, who were the first founders of classical American hi-fi in the ‘40s and the ‘50s. And still, in my times, the stereo decoder, Mr. Von Rechtinghausen from Scott, he built the best decoder, because he was a real German hi-fi manufacturer, German engineer, American manufacturer, so I was excited about hi-fi, because, if Bang and Olufsen has to carve, it was only one of twenty Danish companies at the time, and the German radio industry was much bigger, and much more powerful, so we didn’t have a chance, when the markets were opening. Treaty of Rome said that they will be open, so it was foreseeable that we would have competition, which was completely impossible to go against. So then we decided to go, initially we want to, instead of having ten percent of the Danish, we wanted one percent of the European market.

Nebeker:

This is in the mid-’60s that you-

Bang:

The thinking is in the beginning of the ‘60s, and then the question is not only you want to have a niche, and the people says, haha, we just go for a niche, but the question is, which niche. And nobody, a market, there isn’t a market niche, a market niche, that’s something you make yourself with a product. So you have to have a product niche for yourself if you want to select a slice of the market like we wanted. And a natural niche for us could be hi-fi, because of this Bofa, we made big amplifiers, big acoustics, that was all elements, we sold cartridges and microphones in America for hi-fi nuts in America, so we had a lot of components within hi-fi, so we, if we could put it together as a hi-fi manufacturer, maybe that was a natural niche for us. At least we decided. And then the next one was, I wanted to make European hi-fi. Because hi-fi was Scott and Fisher in America, and it was always, it was 17 inch racks, because hi-fi has its origin from radio stations. It was actually, Scott and Fisher didn’t go out to make hi-fi for the consumer. They went out and built monitor receivers for FM stations, which there were 800 of in America. And when they put something on the air, they had to monitor what went through the air, so they had to have a monitor receiver. So that’s why they built them in 17 inch racks. Because they were put in the racks of the radio station, often at the top of a skyscraper, and it was sitting there together with all the other technical measuring equipment, because that’s what it was, it was a piece of test equipment. But it was such a high quality that music lovers start buying it, and then it became the format of hi-fi, because that-. And it had no sense whatsoever because it, it, it came from the rack, and at home you didn’t have the rack. Okay. So I want to make a European format which would be low, and different, I want to make, instead of, it was always gold plated at Scott, because gold was most expensive. If you go back to Scott and Fisher, they always had gold plated contacts. So we said silver and low, we said precision, so we selected with a slide rule, because the slide rule at the time was the sign of precision. I mean, slide rule was, both the calculator slide rule and the mechanical slide rule for measuring millimeters, was symbol of precision. [unintelligible] was less precise, as it was lighter, so we went to slide rule, we went to silver instead of gold, we went to low, and we deliberately set out to make a European format of hi-fi. And that was my first product planning job, where you plan, you know technically you can make 60 watts amplifiers, you know, you must know what’s impossible technically, but you went out from your needs to make a niche, the consumer’s need, to play music. And so the first, what was the slide rule build up amplifiers, and in a very short while, we are the biggest producer of hi-fi in Europe. And now we had our own format, so we didn’t have to face direct competition with the Japanese, because when Scott and Fisher, their format was taken to Japan and mass produced there, but it was still the same format, after a while, they put it in black, all of it, but it was the same format, the rack. The rack has no sense in a home. The rack has sense in a test station. But because it was given that format, then the rack became, even in the home, the format of hi-fi. Which is absurd. Where we created our own format, bought for the home, then they went on with this mistake all the way, still have it, to some extent. So that was my first job as a product planner. Then we, I product planned lightweight TV, I product planned-

Nebeker:

You mean portable TV?

Bang:

Portable TVs. Again, I’ve seen at GE, when I got involved with design, that GE also pioneered portable TV, sophisticated TV, which was, instead of the big console TV, it was portable, with its own stand, and I’ve seen that in America work, so we developed it in a European context. Quite different.

1960s production, design, and markets

Nebeker:

So from the ‘60s on, the company is looking to the large European market, is that right?

Bang:

It’s looking to the, it’s looking to the European. Because the definition of our consumer was, the consumer who travels with Lufthansa, and reads Time magazine. Like you say, the more educated, this is our target group definition. But I don’t know we have a precise, for the European. I think we thought to the world, because we have some experience in America with cartridges, and some of our first products were sold in America, and we knew America was a leader, was a biggest market for hi-fi equipment, so we knew that we had to be on the American market. Seen from a commercial point of view it was stupid, but seen from a technical, we had to compete in America, because that was the toughest market in the world. That’s the only way you can learn your competitors, that’s when you operate on the toughest market, which was the American market.

Nebeker:

So the home stereo, the gramophone, and a radio, that could be, essentially the same product could be sold in the United States, Europe, and Japan, is that right?

Bang:

No, it couldn’t because you had different voltages and different standards, so that was one of the areas we started selling it everywhere, and we didn’t really have the backbone to modify it. In South Africa we sold it there, the oscillator, it’s different, every country has small differences. And they was too much in the beginning, because the volume was low. But we did, basically, we folded out to anybody who wanted to buy, which was a mistake.

Nebeker:

Because you can’t do it in volume enough to make it profitable? Or because it’s too much trouble in customizing it for the different countries?

Bang:

It’s, it’s just different version for every country. The UL approval is quite different andyou don’t know it, I mean, because we were, I knew some of it because I had constructed in America, and we did okay, we survived, and we learned the hard way, and it was-

Nebeker:

But you’re saying that in retrospect you think it would have been better to concentrate on a European-

Bang:

Oh, sure, sure. Oh, focus much more, because we made radio and TV, we made everything, again, like in the first, we could do anything, and people looked, said, oh, you can do anything. Why can’t you do this? Oh, can we do that? Well, we do that. Which was, seen from a business point of view, it lacked focus.

Nebeker:

I see.

Bang:

But seen from a learning curve, it was tremendous, because you collect experience from all your mistakes, because you only learn by your mistakes. Your successes, you never understand why it was a success, but your mistakes, you analyze and you find out, why? [laughter] And that was the period when you could make mistakes. If you go today, a young engineer is not allowed to make a mistake, because, one mistake, his head is cut off. This was a period where you could develop new products in a year and you could put them on the market, you could learn, you could modify, you could come with a new, it was a very fertile period where you could experiment.

Nebeker:

And, at least through the ‘60s, the company was doing extremely well, you started....

Bang:

Economically, I don’t think so, but it grew like, it grew like crazy, and it got international recognition, and we had a funny situation, because, I have to say of course, I said hi-fi was one specialty, but design of course was the other, which I learned from, again from Chicago and GE times, and Bang and Olufsen had done special design radios before, but they were called the architect’s model, because if you make a chassis in two different cabinets, a modern one and a traditional one, you sold 95% traditional and only 5% in the modern design, which dealers called the architect’s version of that radio. So we knew there were, the commercial department knew there was only a small market for designers’, designer radios, and that was something we had to, we had to take for granted, because that was the wisdom at the time. So, but that didn’t matter, because we only needed one percent, or maybe two percent of the European market, instead of ten percent of the Danish, so our plans was, when we shifted the focus from the Danish quality brand to those who evaluate design and quality above price, then, we could have the potential of gaining one percent of the European market, or maybe the world market, and then of course, we had to accept that our market share in Denmark, which was not the highest, the second highest was ten percent, it would probably go down. Maybe not to one - two percent, but realistically, we had to plan that it would go down to five percent, if we only make a designer set. But that was, we were in a survival situation, and you had no other choice, so you better do it. So we did it, and the interesting thing is, we never anymore made the same chassis with two cabinets. In fact, we constructed as integrated, like the one, the 900, where the chassis is part of the, if you take out the chassis, the thing will collapse, because it’s integrated, it’s no longer -

Nebeker:

Not making the chassis inside the cabinet.

Bang:

No. It’s, it’s, the chassis is part of the mechanical strength, so if you take it out, it’s just a skin, outside. So because of that, we are constructed that way, and that meant they were integrated and optimized with one aim, and what I like to brag about is, that five years later, our 19 competitors were dead in Denmark. And we had an export of 50 percent. And our market share in Denmark did not go from ten to five percent, like we had feared. Or hoped for, because we could fear it went to two percent. It went to fifty percent. Which of course was because we still had distribution strength, but it also proved to me that people doesn’t, it’s only when you talk about style, you can say modern, classic, Mediterranean, style, then people select the style they have at home. But if you make an integrated, well conceived, focused design, then everybody decoded the same way, that’s an attractive piece of equipment. Then you are away from style, then it’s a product which people don’t take apart in style and other things, they say do I like it, or don’t I like it. They don’t separate, and is it Mediterranean, is it, this or that. And there we learned that good design is good design, is good communication, and people decode good communication much more universal than people think. People think that that’s a question of taste, it’s so different as people are different, taste, you cannot discuss taste, because it’s so different. But the fact is, that people see much more the same as, they get much easier confused with language, or with written, than they can with, what they see is objective, so they see it, and they make their judgment, they don’t analyze it the same way.

Nebeker:

You’re saying taste is much more universal than is customarily thought.

Bang:

I say that, I don’t say taste, I say, okay yes, but I try to say not taste, I say-

Nebeker:

Desirability of a product.

Bang:

Desirability of a product is much more universal, because it goes down to our senses, not to our brain, and our senses are the same, eyes, feel, smell, there we have the same. But I also say that good design is good communication, and that is much more universal than verbal communication, and written communication, there is not as many preconceived- People in fact believe more in visual communication, because they don’t, it shows, these years, that you know if you can manipulate visual much more now that you keep everybody on audiovisual, A/V computer, multimedia computer. Everybody knows that you can manipulate pictures much more than text, [laughter] but if you go twenty years back, and saw the pictures from the Vietnam War, we were, by the way, manipulated some of them, people didn’t know that you could manipulate pictures, so when they saw some blood on the pictures from Vietnam, that was objective truth. And you know damn well it wasn’t objective at all, it was manipulated, but it was manipulated by somebody who knew how to do that before the public knew it could have been done, and therefore it was damn dangerous.

Nebeker:

So how did, once you made this decision that you’d go for the designer part of the market, did you then start hiring recognized designers?

Bang:

We worked together with the best designers we knew in Denmark at the time, which was architects, Moltnau, and Hansen, there were several architects which used to do our cabinetries.

Nebeker:

I see, even earlier.

Bang:

Earlier. And, and, and one of the most gifted of them was called Mr. Moltnau, and he did the 900, which is, do you know, I said three things the consumer, but you know why that radio is so unique, from a design point of view, because every radio, every TV, every speaker, every radiogram, everything you have in the industry before that radio, was always a picture tube with a frame around it, a speaker grill with a frame around it, a radio dial, with a frame around it, a record player with a base around it. It was always framed with a wooden or a plastic frame. It was always framed on all four, not on the corners, but all four sides. That radio was the first time that the frame was [unintelligible] and that the middle went all the way through. And that’s where the Bang and Olufsen formed what we called it, the iden, the design identity was created by that, and from that day on, the last 30 years, you always see that Bang and Olufsen goes flush, all the way to the end.

Nebeker:

Uh-huh, so there’s no frame around it.

Bang:

There is, it’s only framed on the top and the bottom, the, it, the metal runs all the way, and that’s of course, how you get the long, Bang and Olufsen iden, designer identity. And that is unique. It was invented, and of course the [unintelligible], it was another invention we, never been done before, and I got the idea from a mixer group on the first tape recorder, and that was a success, so why we can’t have it this way, so we put it that way, and we, it was very difficult to make linear potentiometers, we had it made down in Germany and people, they thought we were crazy, and we were, and ten years later, you couldn’t make a TV anywhere in the world without linear potentiometers. Which was crazy, but it became a symbolism of, one of Bang and Olufsen’s symbolistic values.

Nebeker:

How did the arrangement with the designers work? Would you first decide that you were going to do a certain product, and then go to the designer and say, this is roughly how it’s going to have to be?

Bang:

You develop a relation with a designer, for instance, Jakob Jensen who you are going to visit, I met him in America, at GE because he worked in Chicago with GE too, so when I came home and we needed more designers, it was natural to think of him. And he had came back to Denmark too. So then you establish a personal relation, so you learn to communicate together, you learn to express yourself, with the terms of product planning, because that was, he was learned, because he was taught in America, he knew the difference. If you product plan, or if you just design or style. So he knew it was product planning, not design, I knew it was product planning, not design, I was the product planner, he was the designer, but he wanted to be the product planner too, so we more or less, sitting on a bench like that, and tossed around the ideas, and, and kept formulating the problems until we were satisfied, and when you, when you can define the problem, then you can have a solution, but defining the problem correctly is not so easy.

Nebeker:

You mean to say even the idea of exactly what products are going to be offered is also discussed with the designer?

Bang:

In our case, yes, because when you have them that close, you have an idea that you would like to make a new radio, or a new tape recorder, I mean of course you get those kinds of input, but the worst thing you can do is to make a new radio, and a new tape recorder, to think that that’s the problem. Because that’s the problem that the sales department say they have, they want to have a new model, but the consumer don’t have that need, the company cannot survive by making new variations of radios or so on, you have to, I remember when we made the first [unintelligible], which was born in the ‘60s, we sat down and said, at that time the Japanese was coming in with transistor radios, also to Europe, or at least it was foreseeable they would come around the corner, they had already done in America, so then we were sitting there, and then we were saying, you know, in Denmark we have twenty companies still, in Germany there is fifty, Norway there is ten, Sweden, there is probably 1000 companies around the world who make transistor radios, and all of these companies has a range from big down to small pocket sized transistor radios. So on the average they maybe have a model range of ten times 1000, so there’s at least 10,000 transistor radios in the world. So, Mr. Jensen, why should we make 10,000-, number 10,001. Find one reason that a company located here, which is the worst place in the world, should start competing with the most efficient Japanese, and today it would be Taiwanese, at that time it was the other companies which was in the forefront. Why on earth should we make a transistor radio? So you start by saying to yourself, and prove, of course, it would be foolish to make transistor radios. Okay. Then you know what you shouldn’t do. So then you have to answer, and the only reason, seen from the point of the consumer, to make anything, is it offers him a new alternative he can select in relation to the 10,000 already there. If there’s only, if there’s only what I like, there’s no reason for it, he’ll never hear about it, and we’ll lose money. But if we venture, if we emerge, if we start, putting money, people, creativity, ideas into designing a new product, it must be as an idea. There must be a reason why the consumer or some consumers eventually would prefer that alternative to the 10,000 other alternatives. So you start seeing from the mind of the consumer, can we generate an idea which a consumer will respond to, which is an alternative to all the others. And only if you can, I used to say, there’s no excuse for making a new product, there’s only one excuse for making a new product, and that is, that you made it, there’s no excuse for making a new product, there is only one valid excuse for making it, and that’s, you have a new idea. And we set, all the way from the beginning, we set that claim, if we don’t have a new idea, forget it. Why put all the effort into reproducing another idea. That means that we didn’t develop, we didn’t select design, we selected idea generation, and you probably heard, I said several times, to me design is a language to communicate ideas. A universal language, which is understood by almost anybody, which is much more common. I mean, when we made our first catalog, we just had to have pictures of the things we made, we didn’t need to have language, because people all over the world, they decode pictures the same way. It’s a universal language of communicating ideas. And identity between the producer and the purchaser, and the purchaser and other purchasers who select the same thing. So, you see, it’s a communication idea, and a thing you communicate and sell our ideas. If that idea produces sound, people might call it a radio, fine. But it’s the idea they buy, it’s not the transistor, because they have many, many cheaper and other ways of listening to music. But there is only one way with the sliding, and the good sound, and these other ideas we put into our transistor radios. And the same with hi-fis, and same with record players, we make parallel tracking, because that’s the way it recorded, that’s why formulating the problem, we spend a lot of time and effort on that, because if you have really analyzed, and formulated the problem, seen from the eyes of the consumer, but of course, made an idea which not only the consumer responds to, but an idea which we can produce with our abilities and limited quantities, and it has to match certain things, but there is only one judge, and that’s the consumer, because he has to put his money on the desk, in order that we can survive, and so we have to produce an idea which is attractive to him, which is communicated to him through the most efficient means of communication I have ever heard about, design. Because it’s wrapped around the product all its life.

Nebeker:

So you never had the idea that every couple of years you have to have a new model TV-

Bang:

We used to have that because if you’d look at Bang and Olufsen’s product range before I started in the ‘60s, every year, the whole model range was redone.

Nebeker:

Is that right?

Bang:

Like everybody else. Like the Japanese still do. This is the tradition of the business, of the radio and TV business.

Nebeker:

There’s a certain amount of, I mean there’s some justification for that in that there is incremental technical advance, and every year you could make some slight improvements-

Bang:

But, it is done from commercial reasons primarily, because whenever it comes a new model, new price is always the easiest thing to communicate. When it comes to new models, you can discontinue the old one, which means you can have an extra sale there, and you have an industrial sale filling pipelines. The commercial people even talk about all these things as the lever they can operate, and that’s why they like them. But that means you have to make new products.

Nebeker:

Right.

Bang:

And you exhaust yourself of doing all of that-

Nebeker:

So you consciously moved away from annual models or regular replacement-

Bang: 




We did it by the definition, because we, we, we, when you do these integrated designs where there’s everything, there’s only one, it takes more engineering, it takes more effort, and if you have done it right, you can’t make changes, because, you can’t copy it either, because it’s so unique that if you make an update next year, it doesn’t necessarily become better, because it’s only surface design, and surface design is surface design, so it’s a consequence of the strategy, which luckily fit the company, because we didn’t have resources for doing that too.

Nebeker:

So, from the mid-’60s, you were, what was the actual title, you were head of product planning?

Bang:

Manager of product planning.

Nebeker:

Manager of product planning. And how long did you hold that position?

Bang:

It was changed over the years, and it was corporate planning, there came different words on it, but the essence was product planning, and that’s what I always did, and that’s what I liked, and I held that for twenty-two years I think.

[end of tape two, side two.]