Lee Buller wrote: > I am a history buff and I like to read historical accounts. I've > been reading > about how some ham radio manufacturers got started. I wonder if > there is an > "official" historical document/story/narrative about how Elecraft > got started > the history from inception to now.
Hi Lee, Here's my account. * * * Elecraft grew out of an extended conversation Eric and I were having about whether a "modular" transceiver could be designed that would emulate the very popular do-it-yourself PC. The idea was to have a basic radio that could be customized as needed by the user. Could this lead to a successful startup? We knew there were many risks. But both of us had issues with our jobs at the time, so we dreamed up a company name and proceeded to give up our nights and weekends in pursuit of this idea. Eric and I collaborated on the first design--the K2--which represented a synthesis of our two philosophies. I had recently designed other QRP kits, including the NorCal 40A, Sierra, and SST. I wanted the K2 to be easy to build and operate, small in size, very power-efficient, and have a clean, visually-appealing design. Eric was a DX enthusiast and consequently wanted the K2 to have excellent receiver performance and "big-rig" operating features. We discussed the design for weeks, mostly by e-mail (since we live an hour apart), but also during the occasional walk on the beach. At one point we suddenly realized that what we were proposing to design was the "ultimate Field Day rig," a true dual-purpose (home/field) radio. In fact we had done Field Day together for several years, and took note of what we really wanted: bullet-proof receiver; internal battery; and an internal automatic antenna with two antenna jacks (for two orthogonal long wires). The year before starting the K2 design, we operated FD with a Sierra and two antenna tuners and an A/B switch--we were committed to cleaning up this act! In October, 1997, my wife Lillian helped me build a foam core mockup of the proposed K2 design. I drew photo-realistic color renderings of the front and rear panels, printed them out, and glued them to the foam. We even had early K2 PCB artwork glued to the interior surfaces. The entire assembly was held together with sewing pins. It still sits on a shelf above my lab bench. On October 20th, Eric and I announced our intention to start Elecraft at Pacificon, a major California hamfest. The room was packed, and my guess is that by now, probably 60-70% of the 150 people who were in that room bought K2s. We showed off the mockup and took lots of questions. The way we introduced the name of the K2 was something of a joke. Having design the Sierra and spawned something of a rash of rigs named for mountain ranges (by NorCal and other QRP groups), I swore I'd never name another rig after a mountain. So we suggested naming our new rig after the millennium: the Elecraft "2K". Since this was a QRP crowd, the irony was not lost on them--that's the model of a famous high-power linear amplifier! So we said, "OK, let's reverse the characters--K2. OOPS, another mountain...." From that moment we started working nonstop on the design, and, frankly, compromising our day jobs. Our design skills were very complimentary. Although I had been designing radios for some time, my degree is in Cognitive Science, so I focused on the overall packaging and user-interface scheme. I also started writing firmware for the several microcontrollers to be used. Eric's degree is in EE, and he's meticulous about measuring performance. We each prototyped different parts of the circuit, and after many phone calls and e-mails, met approximately in the middle. The basic design was completed in Spring, 1998. One thing that really can't be overstated is how important receiver performance was to both of us, but especially Eric, Mr. DX. While I was completing the PCB layouts and chassis mechanical design, Eric was busy duplicating the ARRL's test lab. So, at about the time one rig was ready for test, we had a means of verifying performance and making final changes. Later, the ARRL tested a K2, and confirmed our excellent results. (At that time, the K2 had the best close-in dynamic range ever measured by the ARRL lab.) We then sold 100 K2s as "Field Test" units, a strategy that has paid off time and again as we've released new products. The K2 was into full production early in 1999. An unsung heroine was Eric's wife, Lerma, who helped get our act on the road -- to Dayton and beyond. She was (and still is) our most dedicated roadie, taking orders, keeping us wallowing in healthy snacks, and not letting us forget when it was time to go do a talk. By that point, Eric and I had both quit our other jobs. Eric, who had been a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley for over a decade, started focussing on business issues. He pretty much ran things at our headquarters, originally in Aptos. I chose to work at home (Belmont, closer to San Francisco) and do most of the design work. This arrangement is perfect for both of us: I get plenty of quiet time to think about design issues, and Eric enjoys the excitement of day-to-day business operations. He likes to "design the business." The K1 design was again a collaboration between us, but by then our style of interaction was set: We would spend a lot of time brainstorming together, then I'd go off and build a prototype while Eric handled operations. Finally, we'd come back together to do testing and solve any lingering problems. (I kid Eric that we're the Lennon and McCartney of radio design. He still wants to know which one of us which.) I thought of the K1 as my "baby," in that it allowed me to come full circle from some of my very early multi-band QRP designs (See "The Safari 4," in QEX Magazine, Oct/Nov/Dec 1990). The idea was for it to be a baby brother of the K2, optimized for lightweight portable operation, CW only, and yet with the same "look and feel" as the K2. We also figured we needed an entry-level rig. We have grown considerably since then, adding new engineers and support staff so Eric and I could ditch some of the many hats we each wore when we first started. Key early additions included Lisa Jones, our tireless office manager; the intrepid Paul Russell in purchasing; and Gary Surrency (quite the electronics wiz) in customer support. Sometime later Bob Friess, N6CM, joined the team, helping us with the 100-W amp for the K2, as well as creating our line of transverters and most of our mini-modules. Bob is an expert in high-power and high-frequency RF design. A major milestone in our history was the KDSP2 option for the K2. Lyle Johnson, KK7P, became known to us *after* he had mostly completed this highly versatile DSP unit. He reverse-engineered the auxBus protocol and made the KDSP2 behave as if it were a KAF2, which plugged into the same spot. He showed it to us, and we immediately adopted both the product and Lyle himself. Lyle's knowledge of DSP would help propel the K3 forward. It had actually been on the drawing board for a long time. But a funny thing happened along the way to the K3: the KX1. I was a little leery of jumping right into the K3, which we knew would be a mostly surface-mount design. So we had a bit of fun in 2003 and created a multi-band backpacking rig that had *some* SMDs, but was still mostly through-hole. (For more on the KX1, see http://www.elecraft.com/KX1/N6KR_KX1_History.html.) The T1 autotuner, another test vehicle for new fabrication techniques, was of this same vintage. The T1's optional control cable for the FT817 was the most difficult things I'd ever built, with a dozen 0402-sized parts packed onto a fingernail-sized PCB inside a mini-DIN connector. After that trial, I was ready for anything. Bring on the SMDs! The K3 design evolved rapidly with Bob Friess and Lyle on the project, and we began serious work on it in 2004. The stakes were high, and our goal was to beat the K2 by a wide margin. Eric was instrumental in refining the feature set. He also scaled up our lab gear, since even testing such a radio would prove challenging (due to its high dynamic range). While Lyle and I dug in on system architecture, Bob prototyped the RF/IF strip, including the 10- W and 100-W amp modules. Packaging was a major challenge; I had to design everything from scratch, including the knobs, display, switches, etc. The learning curve was steep, and we were all back to wearing a lot more hats. Lyle and I settled into firmware development (MCU for me, DSP for him) in 2006, and by 2007 we were ready to commit to a production schedule. We had a fateful meeting about production early in 2007 with our PCB assembler in Monterey. I'll never forget the look on the face of the owner when we told him what we were going to do. He said, "Wow. This is really big for you guys, isn't it." Yes, it was. The commitment to parts inventory alone was pretty staggering. We all signed up that day (not quite a blood ritual, but that's how it felt), opened our wallets, and prayed. Of course we had such great customers, and such enthusiastic field testers, that we were pretty sure the risks were worth it. Somehow our core focus group of about a dozen VIP contesters and DXers managed to keep the project secret right up until the last minute, and we caught everyone by surprise when we announced the K3 later in 2007. Clearly there's a Part II to this story featuring many of our more recently added staff and newer products. But for now, back to my bench. 73, Wayne N6KR ______________________________________________________________ Elecraft mailing list Home: http://mailman.qth.net/mailman/listinfo/elecraft Help: http://mailman.qth.net/mmfaq.htm Post: mailto:Elecraft@mailman.qth.net This list hosted by: http://www.qsl.net Please help support this email list: http://www.qsl.net/donate.html