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Racal-Thermionics Ltd (the first time around)

I was home on leave form being at sea. I was bored, all my friends were working during the day and I had little to do. I had four months leave due to me, this was going to be a long summer…

Down in Hythe there was an electronics company called Racal-Thermionics Ltd., they make industrial tape recorders.

In early July (after being home about a week) I walked into their front door and asked for a job. Their reaction was ‘What can you do?’ We happened to be beside the entrance to a Test Department who were testing tape recorders. I was able to explain to the person what the function was of most of the components on the various printed circuit boards and the next question was ‘When can you start?’

I started the next Monday morning on a salary only just a little less than my Marconi salary and thought ‘this is OK, I can stick this for a few months (I was on leave, being paid by Marconi too) then I can go back to sea.

I enjoyed working in this little test department, testing and repairing printed circuit boards, putting them into their chassis’ and then testing the whole tape recorder.

Now I should explain at this point that the Radio Officer’s ticket expired after two years of non use. Come the two year time I had a decision to take - to stay at Racal Thermionics or go back to sea. Racal Thermionics won, the comforts of being home won, the social life won, I liked my little MGB and it won, I had a girlfriend so I won! That was it, I never went back to sea.

After a year or so Racal Thermionics was re-branded Racal-Recorders and we moved up to a brand new, purpose built factory at Hardley Industrial Estate.

The whole Company expanded as did my role within. I was promoted to be in charge of the Printed Circuit Board Test Department. We had about 6 PCB inspectors and about 12 PCB Test Engineers/Test Assistants.

At times we had spare capacity and took in assembly and test work from other members of the Racal Group. We built and tested many hundreds of Racal MA-1720 (100kHz-30MHz frequency synthesizers) and during one winter when we needed extra capacity we sub-contracted out the building of many thousands of our own printed circuit boards to Kenmelon in Galashiels.

Kenmelon Ltd., employed about 250 in the border town of Galashiels and it was my privilege to commute (via Heathrow/Edinburgh Turnhouse) to perform Quality Assurance tests of their work. This lasted from about October until March and was a fantastic experience for me.

It was about the same time as I had my first introduction to computers. Racal Recorders made a small Digital Tape Storage unit (Digistore) and the Engineering Department built out first ATE (Automatic Test Equipment) based on a DEC PDP-8 computer using Octal (numbers to the base 8).

Later Racal Recorders invested in a ‘bed-of-nails’ ATE to test some of the high throughput PCBs. This was based on a Computer Associates computer which had Core Memory and the programs were stored on 8” floppy disks.

During my time at Racal I gained qualifications in Supervisory Studies (NEBSS) and attained Associate Membership of the Institute of Works Managers.

The main products on which I worked were:

T3000 analogue 4 channel tape recorder using 0.25” tape 15/16”/s to 15”/s with a frequency response of DC to 5kHz

T8000 analogue 16 or 32 channel tape recorder using 0.5” or 1” tape with frequency response DC to about 15kHz

Geostore (for recording the output(s) of Seismographs) on to 0.5” tape with speeds from 15/640ths of an inch per second upwards.

Store 4 4 Channel tape recorder DC-5kHz response.

ICR (International Communications Recorder) primarily 64 channels on 1” tape where one tape runs for 24 hours and were much used in Call Centres and Air Traffic Control applications to record all voice communications.

As soon as I get permission from the family of the late Chas Moore I hope to have a page detailing more about Racal Recorders in general and their products.

I left Racal Recorders sometime in mid December 1980 in order to move the the village shop in Hale.

The next part of the story can be found under the page ‘The Shop’

Work in progress…