Las Vegas, NV—The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) inducted 14 visionaries into the Consumer Technology (CT) Hall of Fame at its annual awards dinner late last year. CTA created the Hall of Fame in 2000 to honor industry pioneers and entrepreneurs. The CT Hall of Fame is made up of world-class inventors, technologists, businessmen and women as well as retailers.
Moreover, the CT Hall of Fame honors the storied history of the consumer electronics industry. It has saluted tech powerhouses like Steve Wozniak, Alexander Graham Bell and Philo T. Farnsworth.
This year’s honorees include John Briesch, the Sony executive who led the launch of the compact disc (CD); Dr. John Cioffi, the father of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL); Robert Cole, founder of World Wide Stereo; Richard Doherty, an influential technology journalist and industry analyst; Peter Lesser, smart home pioneer and founder of X-10 USA; Mike Romagnolo, founder of DOW Stereo/Video; and Edgar Villchur, inventor of the acoustic suspension speaker.
In addition, two teams are also part of the 2018 class. They are: the cofounders of Thiel Audio, Kathy Gornik and Jim Thiel; as well as the cofounders of Skype, Janus Friis, Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, Jaan Tallinn and Niklas Zennström.
Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CTA, praised the inductees for their contributions that have helped to grow the U.S. economy: “[W]e honor the leaders that inspire us and motivate us to think outside the box. The entrepreneurs in the CT Hall of Fame are an extraordinary group. They inspire us to be better and encourage us to reach for the stars.”
In 1983—a year after the CD’s invention—John Briesch made a bet in the New York Times about a new technology called a “digital compact disk audio system.” The article questioned whether “CDs”, which required $800 to $900 players, would ever replace vinyl and cassettes. Briesch, the vice president of marketing for Sony at the time, was sure. “Within eight to 10 years, we see everyone being converted to the compact disk-type design,” he said.
Originally sold to audiophiles, Briesch worked to bring CDs to the mainstream consumer, hinging its success on lower price points and easy availability. He and his team visited almost every music company, artist and audio engineer in America to introduce CD technology. They also explained the business model and potential for future format expansions like CD-ROM and video.
Moreover, Briesch signed licenses with various labels to produce and sell limited titles in the U.S., which lead to Sony building the first U.S. CD manufacturing plant in Indiana.
Lesser was selling home automation kits way back in the 1970s. In 1975, he helped Pico Electronics create the Accutrac, a remote-controllable turntable. Even though it failed on the market, Lesser saw its potential and wanted to apply the same technology to other home devices.
Pico and Lesser started selling the X-10 in 1978, which included a 16-channel command console to remotely control lights, wall switches and other ’70s household items. Lesser and the team continued to improve the technology and introduced the Homeminder in 1984, which made an ’80s-era CRT act like a smart TV. X-10 was a hit with early tech adopters and engineers.
Modern consumers’ embrace of connected smart home technology showed he had the right idea.
Villchur sold his top-tier speaker company, Acoustic Research, in 1967 to start the Foundation for Hearing Aid Research. Today, his 40 years of research in hearing aids can be found in nearly all models on the shelf. Villchur’s work culminated into the multichannel compression hearing aid, which better amplified quieter sounds without overamplifying loud ones.
Staying true to his selfless nature, Villchur did not patent this invention. He wanted to make sure as many people could use the technology as possible. Thanks to this decision, multichannel compression became the industry standard.
Cioffi’s work made digital subscriber line technology, DSL, universally practical. As a result, it led the way to easy Internet access in homes and offices throughout the 1990s. Even though DSL depended on a phone line to connect to the Internet, it was much faster and reliable than the dial-up Internet. And users could also make calls while online.
While working at Bell Labs, AT&T and Stanford, Cioffi made so many essential advances in the security, reliability and speed of DSL, he is nicknamed the “Father of DSL.” In addition, his advances in DSL showed just how far Internet advancements could be pushed.
The Hall of Fame dinner celebrated Doherty’s long history withconsumer technology. It ranged from his reporting at the EE Times, the Envisioneering Group he started, and his engineering work at Data General and Lourdes Industries.
Sabrina Doherty accepted the award on behalf of her late father. She recalled the many road trips to trade shows the Doherty family took. “It was at these tech shows where we would walk the halls and he would point out people and tell us how they made our world better and also how their vision, discoveries and guidance upgraded our lives.”
Cole is the founder and CEO of World Wide Stereo. For almost 40 years, World Wide Stereo has stood at the forefront of the industry, with Cole leading the team every step of the way.
As World Wide Stereo’s annual sales continued to climb, he opened a second retail store in Ardmore, an e-commerce website and also multiple distribution centers.
The founder of DOW Stereo/Video, Romagnolo was the man to call when CE companies had new technologies to introduce. In 1969, Romagnolo bought four stereos with his $1,000 tax return and got four more on consignment. He called his rented 1,000-square-foot North Park, San Diego store Anchor Stereo.
After the eight stereos quickly sold, he ordered more, all the while developing relationships with manufacturers. Romagnolo expanded both his inventory and locations, adding a 2,500- and a 3,500-square-foot store in the area around San Diego State University.
During the next 14 years, Michael Romagnolo expanded to a total of 10 DOW Stereo/Video locations.
CT Hall of Fame Selection
With the 2018 class, the CT Hall of Fame grows to 260 inventors, engineers, retailers, journalists as well as entrepreneurs. These honorees conceived, promoted and/or wrote about the innovative technologies, products as well as services that connect and improve the lives of consumers.
The inductees were selected by media and industry professionals. They judged the nominations submitted by manufacturers, retailers and also journalists.
For information on the 2019 nomination process, visit CTA.tech.