Monday, February 12, 2007

Covered Wagon

This is to briefly illustrate the Murphy-Townsend-Stephens wagon trail party.

The shoot was in Montgomery Hill Park in San Jose. It has a clear view of mountains without any civilization if you pick the sight line carefully. Only one old wagon wheel and some stuff around it (hopefully) create the illusion of rest of the wagon.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Current Summary

Current summary: A 40-45 minute documentary, titled "An Echo of the Future", about the Bessey family of Sunnyvale in the 1920's. The father who made a fortune in the farm supply business funded his son's venture into electronics, which was a dismal personal and professional failure. This little nugget of the past is surprisingly connected to the present, as the radio boom at that time was a lot like the dot-com craze in the late 1990's. This piece of Silicon Valley pre-history is entirely unknown because of the City's 1960's efforts to fully delete its heritage. But the future is bright because Sunnyvale has learned the error of its ways, rebuilding its downtown, preserving a plot of farmland as a working orchard, and finally building a long-awaited museum.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Welcome to the blogosphere!

Well, my friend Bill Mitchell finally told me to get with the times and put all this Bessey Status stuff up on a blog. I was resisting because I thought it would be a pain (hmmm, why am I a Luddite if I'm a computer programmer?), but it was super easy.

I know I've been working on this film for a long time, and nobody wants to see the progress pick up more than me.

The problem is that I want everything to look nice, and that just takes time.

After this Barn Interior shoot is done, things get much, much easier. The shoots that follow are easier in nature, in that they either require fewer or no people in front of the camera (table-top interior shoots, Sunnyvale building shoots) or are simpler (a bunch of people standing at a gravesite -- the camera makes a move, but that's all).

Besides prepping for shoots, I occasionally work on the graphics and maps as well.

Script, Version 16

This is script version 16. Between 8 and 16, all of the changes have been of the one-or-two words variety.



v16 as of 27-Nov-2007

Ben Koning

v16: Jubilee was located where Villa Del Sol APARTMENTS, not the martial arts / Bay Leaf STRIP MALL is today. Jack must have missed this if he didn't think about the Del Monte building moving southwest 1 block in the early 1990s. So "It is now a strip mall" -> "It is now an apartment complex".

v15: Blame Canada. Graveyard ref St.Cath as well.

v14: Tiny rev in order, for easier editing, of order around "No Bessey is alive today".

v13: Found a color picture of the Murphy House in 1960, so add "shown here in a rare color photograph".

v12: Delete "he moved his family to Canada"; not needed and causes edit problem with KenBurners.

v11: Changes to accommodate the passing of Jack Rowe and Ann Zarko: Jack we change to past tense, Ann "who at age 96 WAS still active in Sunnyvale affairs PERIOD". Inflection change on "Earth stake into the ground". Different sentence to accommodate different intro of earth stake into the ground section. Change to THIS in "likely took his final strolls in THIS small park next door".

v10: Changed "Western" to "West Coast". Inserted part about AEB buying Armstrong some drinks to get license -- put in the Armstrong section. Both VO changes done already.

v9: The only thing that's new for v9 is that St. Catharines is spelled like that, with two "A"s and no apostrophe. This will NOT need a change in the audio voiceover.

v8: LOCKDOWN for voiceover.

v5..v7: EDITING and revisions.

v0..v4: BRINGUP for test showing.

[Introduction interview]

[Credit sequence interleaved to become
historic re-creation, at end of which
narration starts]

Sunnyvale, California.
The very Heart, of Silicon Valley.

A powerhouse
of research, talent,
and raw guts
like nowhere else in
the world.

Its list of technological
achievements is as
long as the 101
that runs through
its industrial core.

[101 is pronounced as "one-oh-one"]


Internet infrastructure.

The birth of video games.

The invention of the personal

The brains of the Space Shuttle.

Top-secret cold-war

The city's
adventures in high
are normally
assumed to have
no earlier than the 1950s.

But buried in THIS little museum,
lay evidence,
that even in the first decades
of the 20th century ...

... the pleasant little
orchard town was
well on its way to
electronic fame.

discovery as important
as Fire and the Wheel.

But it would not
lead to the miracle of
until the race began
to perfect
just one thing:

The radio.

All pioneering
radio work is
assumed to have
taken place in the
United States.

But in 1909, Charles Herrold,
using an arc transmitter of his
own design,
began regular broadcasts from

[HERROLD = E sound as in "step"]

And in 1913, Lee DeForest joined
PALO ALTO - based
Federal Telegraph
to perfect the
vacuum tube.

[Lee DeForest = LEE THE FOREST]
[PALO ALTO = Pahlow Ahltoh]
[Map graphics make it clear these are in California]

The late JACK ROWE was a
engineer and licensed
radio amateur
who had lived in
Sunnyvale since 1960.

As a manager of
many projects
the city's top-secret
he made electronics
his life's work.

[Onizuka = AWE - KNEE - ZOO - CAH]

Aware of DeForest
and Herrold,
Jack discovered ANOTHER
Silicon Valley radio connection.

[Jack Rowe interview]

Twenty-five years
before the Varian brothers and
would launch the Silicon Valley --
it had ALREADY hosted
a mass producer, of
consumer electronics.

This is the only known
photograph of
that once stood at
229 North Sunnyvale

When Jack started
asking about the picture's
origin, no one knew anything
about it.

So he started doing
his own research.

Beyond the local
library and the Internet,
his search took him to
the archives of Sunnyvale's
Historical Society.

But finding the Radio Shop
would not be easy.

The City of Sunnyvale
is located 40 miles south
of San Francisco.

The land is among the
most fertile on the planet.

Its climate
makes it one of the
the most desirable
homes in the world.

missionaries arriving in
the mid-1800's, encountered
the Native American
whom they called
-- people of the coast.

[Ohlone = OH-LONE-EEE]
[Costeños = COAST - AAY - NYOHS]

The first
wagon crossing of the
Sierra Nevada Mountains
was led
by Elisha Stephens.

[Elisha Stephens = EEE-LIE-SHAH STEVENS]

It brought the MURPHY

They made their home
at the southern tip
of the San Francisco Bay.

Efficient farming machinery
and extensive land holdings
made the Murphys one of the
richest families in
the world.

But the Great Depression
and increasing
regulatory complexities
compelled later
generations to
sell off their land.

The most eager buyer
was Walter E. Crossman.

And he was a maverick.

Ahead of his time,
he was a DEVELOPER, as we now
know the term --
obtaining large lots
and sub-dividing them into
many individual homes.

[Chiyo Winters interview]

[Going into present tense for drama]

January 25th, 1898.

Crossman sketches
this pencil drawing
which will forever
define the town's

His vision is nothing
less than to bootstrap
an entire city from

In 1906, Crossman buys
land from Mary Ann
Murphy Carroll.

One small piece of it
is a 5-acre lot that
he sells to a lady

Ada's husband,
Albert W. Bessey,
owns the
near the
railway line.

It is HERE, where
the region's
first commercial venture,
in the field of
consumer electronics, will be

[Back to past tense]

Albert W. Bessey
was born in Canada.

He patented a
chicken incubator
design that
results with greatly
reduced risk of fire.

[Jack Rowe interview]

Bessey's self-regulating
poultry incubators
were in demand the
world over.

Albert had a son:


He was
known to friends and
family as Art.

Art was born in
St. Catharines, Ontario,
and was 6 years old
when the family moved
to California -- soon
to settle in Sunnyvale.

The junior Bessey came of
age to help in the
family business
eventually joined
the city's
political elite.

He served as the first
Western director
of the American
Radio Relay League.

This organization
was enormously
influential in
the early years of

Then, in 1920, Arthur E. Bessey
into business as:


His partner was a man
named Tom Lambert.

[LAM - BURT = LAM as in "Lamb" the animal, BERT as in Bert & Ernie]

[Jack Rowe interview]

The Radio Shop was
the first end-user
electronics firm
in what would be known as
Silicon Valley 50 years

There is little doubt that the
incubator business
provided the
startup money.

That makes Bessey Senior
the area's first
homegrown, high-tech venture

And THIS was their

A gateway to
the mysterious new magic
of wireless
news and entertainment.

It was excellent
at pulling in far-away stations.

It was battery-powered, a
neccessity, because home
electricity was still a rare luxury.

And it fit on a desktop; for its
time, it was downright portable.

In a Silicon Valley
garage, Jack showed us his
collection of Radio
Shop sets and explained
how they worked.

[Jack Rowe garage presentation]

Compared to a modern
design, it is
amazing how stripped-down
the circuitry used to be.

In the simplest radios,
we can easily
see all parts
their functions.

To peek inside
one of the
more complicated units,
we first used
an aircraft engine
inspection scope.

What we saw would
be economically
impossible today.

Costly, labor-intensive
point-to-point wiring.

Handcrafted, three-dimensional

In contrast,
MODERN construction
is flat,
automatic, and inexpensive --
more like printing a book
than making a model.

Retired chip engineer
JOHAN KONING extensively
discussed these early techniques
with Jack.

[JO-HAN="Yo" as in Rap (NOT as in "Joe");
"Han" as in Han Solo]
[KO-NING= "KO" as in "Coke"; note
it ends in -ING, not -G]

It turned out we did not
need the scope.

[I realize this sentence is
a bit clipped ... instead of
"IT turned out THAT we did not
REALLY need the scope"
but I'm trying to fit it]

[Jack Rowe and Johan Koning]

The Radio Shop
was said to
produce up to 150 units
per day.

At its peak, it
employed about 25 workers.

Sporting a lidded box, it cost
75 dollars in 1921.

Tubes, batteries, and a speaker
another 50.

Total in today's money:
about fourteen hundred

The set was quite
sensitive but developed
a notorious reputation
for radiating interference.

But making the
receivers alone was
not enough for the Junior Bessey.

Driven by
hobby and ambition, he
ventured toward the
OTHER end of the
airwaves as well.

[Jack Rowe interview]

The U.S. Government
licensed KJJ as the 23rd
station on December 20, 1921.

With 500 watts of power, it was
located at 360 meters,
or about 830 on the
AM radio dial.

A newspaper
schedules and provided
a forum for enthusiasts.

In the January 27, 1923 edition,
a Charles N. Schwab,
of Grinnell, Iowa,
reported receiving KJJ
from over fifteen
hundred miles away.

[GRINNELL = GRIN as in the facial
expression, ELL as in the letter 'L']

the Bessey family's
good times were

Silicon Valley's
future cut-throat competition
was about
to be foreshadowed.

Radio was booming.

The government
had just increased the
of channels from TWO
to more than 100.

Picking out one station from
all the
others became increasingly

Advertisements in
the 1920s were full of
remedies that didn't
really work
-- and the more
knobs the better.

An officer in the US Army Signal
ARMSTRONG, found the solution
used in almost
EVERY single wireless device
to this day.

[Do NOT emphasize the word "almost", in fact,
a slight emphasis on "EVERY" would be good.
I'm trying to satisfy overly picky people here;
I can't think of any rx design in contemporary
electronics that doesn't use superhet]

But Armstrong would
fight patent battles
with RCA for the rest
of his life.

And small firms
like Bessey's were shut
out completely.

The new technology
was called

It spelled the end of
radio's experimental
period -- and the end of
The Radio Shop.

HET as in "step";
UR as in "curl"]

[Jack Rowe interview]

Bessey had licensed earlier designs
from Armstrong simply by buying him a
few drinks at a Ham radio convention
in Chicago.

Such days were now over.

One of the first things to go was
the radio

On June 16, 1923, the
Department of Commerce
KJJ's license from its

And family tragedy struck
as well.

[Jack Rowe interview]

In a final effort,
Bessey started applying
the ECHOPHONE brand name.

company contracted
with a NUMBER of
Radio Shops.

It was based in
Chicago in a building
that now houses
this music store.

the classic
maker of amateur
and military radio equipment.

[HALLICRAFTERS = "HAL" as in 2001: A space odyssey
+ "IH" can be "ih" or "ee", I don't care + CRAFTERS]

But the Sunnyvale
operation would not make
it past 1925.

We wanted to see
if any evidence of
Bessey survives to
this day.

Is ANYTHING left over
from his enterprise?

Amazingly, many
Radio Shop
remain in circulation.

We know this
because we have seen
many units
for sale by
collectors on-line.

Antique as they are, they still
play today's broadcasts.

Unlike the computers
and operating systems
of today,
that's compatibility spanning
over 90 years.

[Jack Rowe interview]

We wanted to power up and listen to
an Echophone radio.
Would it still work?

We had to go outside and
put up a long,
wire antenna --

-- Then we pounded a good
Earth stake into the
ground --

We provided
the radio with
three separate
power sources --

-- And finally
made all sorts
of tricky adjustments,
while listening
through poor-sounding
and uncomfortable

It took some effort, but the
result is magic.

Here is
hardware nearly a century
old, playing today's

Aside from the
radio sets
themselves, rather
little evidence remains.

This tool
was used to
create nameplates
on the units
just prior to shipping.

Bessey's employees
wore badges such
as this one.

It had a thumbprint and
signature on the back,
and similar tokens
were used
to check out tools.

This badge belonged
to Pete Zarko,
shown here
in later years.

At 17
years old, The Radio
Shop was his first

Later, he would
build Liberty Ship engines
for World War II
at Sunnyvale's Hendy
Iron Works,
and own several
service stations.

Pete was survived by his
wife, Ann Lopin Zarko,
who at age 96 remained active in
civic affairs.

[Ann Zarko interview]

On May 2nd, 1978,
Pete Zarko
was interviewed by
June Oxford.
This damaged tape
the only known
recording of Mr. Zarko.

[Pete Zarko audio]

The interview was part
of an ongoing
oral history project.

It had already
sparked a discussion
the San Jose Mercury

One letter
was from
ANOTHER former
Radio Shop employee.

And it adds a bit of
to the firm's

[Joseph D. Cappa actor audio impersonation]

the San Jose
address was used to gain

But we cannot explain the
year 1910.
It likely referred to Bessey's
early, hobbyist years.

Another oddity is that
Bessey tried at one time
to disown his
company altogether.

In his
Pacific Division Manager
role with the
American Radio Relay League,
he was only
supposed to be
an amateur.

Rather than step down,
he publicly denied
any connection,
instead invoking his son,
ERNEST, as being
nothing more than
an employee.

But plenty of oral and written
stories implicate Arthur.

One disputed source
even says that Ernest
did not survive infancy.

True or not, we do know
that the Bessey grandson
died young.

Within a few years, the Jubilee
firm would fail as

With untimely losses of
father and son and two
failed businesses,
the depression
must have been immense.

Arthur spent his last
14 months at the
Millbrae Serra Sanitarium,
just south
of San Francisco.

"Bray" as in "Hay" or "Hey"]
[SANITARIUM with an "A", not sanitorium with an "o"]

We took a road trip
in search of his
final home.

A list of historic hospitals
tells us the sanitarium
was located where this
transit station is today.

A facility with almost
the same name
still stands nearby.

The 74-year old
businessman likely took
his final strolls in this small
park next door.

He died on Friday,
September 11, 1953, taking a
small, but significant, piece
of silicon valley's origin with him.

No Bessey is alive today.

Bertha was the last of
the clan.
She passed in 1976.

While the Bessey ancestors
remain buried in Canada ...

... the entire American part
of the family
rests at the
Alta Mesa Memorial Park
in Palo Alto, California.

Ada, the elder
Bessey's wife, bought
a plot in 1925 for 200
to be maintained for all

Yet the graves remain

No gravestone,
no plaque,
no memory.

If Sunnyvale is truly the
heart of the
Silicon Valley,
why did it nearly lose
one of its
earliest technology stories?

To understand this,
we have to go back
to the Cold War.

The 1950s and 60s.

Military contracts
promised a bright future,
and the city wished to
expand at all costs.

was literally demolished,
as landmark after
landmark fell
to short-sighted
of questionable maturity.

Most sadly,
the historic
Murphy House,
shown here in a rare
color photograph.

The homestead of
Martin Murphy Jr,
on whose land
Sunnyvale is built.

Before San Jose --
before Sacramento --
was the absolute center of
California society and politics.

In 1953, the
the family sold
BayView to the City, having lived
there for 6 generations.

The State of California
declared it a

But the structure
was neglected for years.

A group of residents
organized to persuade the
city council to save it.

But Sunnyvale,
by now
calling itself the
would not be

[Going into present tense for drama]


Thursday, September 28, 1961.


A front loader rips
into the Bayview


California's most
important home had
stood for more than 110

Its remains were carted
to the city dump

[Say last 3 words slowly, kind of like: Within .. three .... daaays. Pitch of voice comes down on "days".]

[Back to past tense]

[Jack Rowe interview]

[Ann Zarko interview]

[Chiyo Winters interview]

And that wasn't all.

Sunnyvale tore down
its original City Hall.

Demolition actually had
to wait because the
construction bonds
had yet to be paid off.

The Bank of Italy branch, part of
the town
since its
beginning, almost
certainly held Bessey's accounts.

It would become
the Bank of America.

Later a nightclub,
it, too, met the bulldozer.

The Jubilee Incubator
building still stood as
late as 1980, being listed in
Sunnyvale's Historic
Resource Inventory.

It is now an apartment complex.

The Radio Shop
building, which later
also served as a
for Filipino day laborers,
stands no more.

These houses now
mark the spot where radios
once were built.

A 2nd family house,
built by the JUNIOR
DOES survive
today, as an

But the original family residence
is long gone.

A report was
commisioned by the city
in 2001
to see if these sites
should be historic

The suggestion was
denied, but at
least it was
given due consideration,
with expert review.

[More upbeat now]

In recent years, the city has
its heritage, with
downtown attracting
renewed interest.

In May of 2000, the city
broke ground on the
Orchard Heritage Park
Interpretive Exhibit,
on 10 acres of land that
will forever remain
an orchard.

And ! As for the MURPHY HOUSE ...

In 2006, fundraising
efforts reached critical
mass for the
construction of
a museum with a
Bayview Ranch exterior ...

... and a period interior
with exhibits,
including a
permanent homage
to Arthur E. Bessey.

Sunnyvale has taken great
steps forward in restoring
its soul.

Still, the pace of life in
the Valley often leaves
little time for reflection.

[Jack Rowe interview - "I'd like to blame it on..."]

At many City functions,
Jack could be found telling
the Bessey family story.

[Jack Rowe and spectators SOT]

[Jack Rowe interview]

Maybe this story is not
because it's not flashy.

A failed business,
a lost family ...
... a last-place finish
in one
gold rush
among so many.

[A bit plaintive]

Yet it's SO important.

Because REAL history is
found in the ordinary.

And stories like this
soon be repeated
countless times.

[Jack Rowe interview]

Jack Rowe's wish
is for the Bessey
story to be
preserved publicly.

Not only for engineers,

[start reading these
last lines pretty slowly]

... but made part of the
scenery, ready to be
discovered by future
explorers ...

... saved for the
enjoyment of anyone in
of a good graveyard
story ...

... and preserved for EVERYONE
curious, if only for a
split second, about the
very beginnings,
of that magic and
crazy place,
Silicon Valley.


Picture gallery

Here are most of the pictures now that I've posted the entire history on this blog.