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Central Electronics and Joe Batchelor

Possibly those interested in Central Electronics would be interested to know a bit more about the people behind the company name and its products. Central Electronics was founded by Wes Schum in late 1949 as, what would be in today's terminology, a contract manufacturing firm. The first product that Wes's Central Electronics manufactured was a hearing aid device for the Warren Company, a Chicago firm that specialized in equipment for the profoundly deaf.

Wes had always envisioned his company as being a manufacturer of radio communications equipment and had a budding interest in single-sideband even during WW-II. Both he and Joe Batchelor had been working independently to develop amateur single-sideband transmitters for use on 75 Meters. The Single Sideband Junior, developed in 1950 by Don Norgaard of General Electric, sparked an idea whereby Wes designed the first SSB transmitter to use a hetrodyne mixing scheme. This work resulted in the Company's first amateur product, the Model 10A Exciter, which is credited for being the first practical commercial SSB transmitter available to the amateur community.

Contrary to ham folklore, Collins Radio did not invent amateur single-sideband. In fact, during the early 1950s, Collins used a group of four Central Electronics 10A's in their early experiments of single sideband that ultimately resulted in products such as the legendary KWS-1. Later, I'll relate a true story on how Wes sold those first 10A transmitters to Art Collins.

Central Electronics grew rapidly with the introduction of the 10A, which was soon followed by the improved Model10B and then the bandswitched Model 20A Exciter. It was shortly after the release of the 20A in 1954 that Wes met Joe Batchelor at a north Illinois hamfest. Joe had approached Wes with the thought of selling some new product ideas to him. The one idea that immediately caught Wes's interest was the Batchelor Broadband Coupler, as he had an immediate need for a companion amplifier for his low-powered exciter line. What ultimately resulted from this impromptu meeting was the 600L broadband amplifier, which was released in early 1956.

The engineering team of Schum and Batchelor continued well into 1961, but was dissolved several months before the decision to close Central Electronics was formally announced by its then-owner, Zenith Radio Electronics, Inc. Joe moved on to Hallicrafters while Wes returned to his contract manufacturing roots and formed Wes Electronics which later became simply Schum Electronics.

In the mid 1960s, Joe returned to his home of Walnut Grove, Georgia and worked for nearly five years for the Lockheed Corporation. Always wanting to be his own boss, in 1972 Joe formed his own consulting and contract manufacturing company called Breco. Breco was involved in a host of product design and development activities for outside technology and marketing firms. One product was a device to allow homeowners to monitor their electric utility consumption. Another was a series of devices to monitor pollutants emitted from incinerators. But, the one that is credited with sinking Breco into bankruptcy was the development of a computer devices for an overseas operation. The "client" evaporated and left Breco holding the bag for many thousands of dollars of unusable inventory. This in 1976, coupled with a nationwide recession, spelled disaster for Breco.

Personal bankruptcy in late 1976 left the Batchelor's with no home or business. Fortunately, a childhood friend was able to purchase some of Joe's equipment and supplies from auction and relocate the family into an old schoolhouse. The schoolhouse had been purchased by that same childhood friend for investment purposes, but now it was reconfigured as a home and lab for a very dear friend, Joe Batchelor.

The Batchelor's lived and worked in that school house from 1976 until late 1999. It allowed Joe to continue to investigate a number of technical phenomena that he had observed while exploring wideband balanced modulators and alternative methods for producing single-sideband modulation. Nestled into the schoolhouse, Joe was able to spend more and more time pursuing his dreams.

Unfortunately, dreams don't often translate into dollars and as time went on the Batchelor finances continued to erode. Maintenance for the old schoolhouse became impossible and the structure slowly collapsed and leaked around them. I and a great friend Allen Cutts, N4OZI, worked tirelessly to get the family into a more secure environment and to sell off those items in the schoolhouse worth salvaging. But, the salvage effort came far too late. At times the place actually collapsed around us, sending parts, tubes and equipment down into the building's dark, water-filled basement.

Through it all Jackie Batchelor, Joe's wife and best friend for 64 years, silently endured it all and gave loving support to each new idea or personal tragedy that came along. Most people, locals and ham friends alike, assumed that Joe had amassed a small fortune with his many inventions and patents over the years. But patents, unlike copyrights, expire in a relatively short time. Somehow, the memory of the bankruptcy or even the tragic loss of two sons was forgotten. People just assumed that surely the Batchelor's had money enough to live well but for whatever eccentric reason chose not to.

For the past 10 years, Joe's life had been anything but pleasant. Small strokes had robbed him of the ability to pursue technical dreams. Money was, and continues to be virtually non-existent. Physical ailments gradually made it evermore difficult to lift himself from a chair, much less walk. The last year of his life was spent in a nursing home...with Jackie there every day.

The point of this discussion is to suggest that there is a very fine line between financial security, professional success and absolute poverty. It exists for every family, each and every day. Consider that there is no guarantee anyone will have a second chance at life or a new tomorrow to pick up the pieces of regrettable mistake.

It is important, also, to remember and care for the elderly.

America's Greatest Generation is fast entering the twilight of their Life's experience. Please don't forget those horrific sacrifices and outstanding achievements made within their lifetimes that make our World the wonder it is today. If you sense an elderly family may be in trouble, make time to get involved. Take it from me, you will be rewarded in ways one could never imagine.

Many Amateurs continue to enjoy the Central Electronics 100/200V and 600L products that relied so heavily on Joe Batchelor's many contributions to the radio art. I am certain that Jackie would enjoy hearing from you. Please mail your condolences, thoughts and even nostalgic experiences using CE products to:

Mrs. Jackie Batchelor
P.O. Box 177
Jersey, Georgia 30018

© 2012 Central Electronics