Fred M. Link: ‘Goodwill Ambassador’
Fred Link was known to several generations. His fame began with amateur radio exploits, continued with police radio innovations, included World War II radio manufacturing and extended with mobile radio consulting.
I met Fred M. Link in August 1984 at the Salt Lake City APCO conference. I was Mobile Radio Technology’s new senior editor. Phil Cook, then a co-owner of MRT and its publisher, invited a group for lunch, including Fred.
“Fred, what do you do?” I asked.
“Don, it’s been so long since anyone asked me, I don’t know how to answer,” he responded.
You see, Fred was so famous in the land mobile radio industry that hardly anyone ever had to ask. What followed was about 20 minutes of Fred’s resume, which sketched an amazing story.
My last visit with Fred was on June 8, 1998, when Mercy Contreras (MRT’s group publisher) and I took him to lunch at Loafer’s Restaurant in Frenchtown, NJ. We talked about his friends in the industry and in the Radio Club of America. He passed away in his sleep on June 18 from a rapidly advancing leukemia that had been diagnosed only a few days before. He was 93.
Fred never wanted to cooperate in the writing of his biography. He wouldn’t let me print his stories “while I’m alive,” he said, “because I can’t be sure what’s the truth and what isn’t. It might embarrass some people.”
“But Fred, most of them are no longer with us,” I persuaded.
“That’s true, but I still can’t be sure of what I say,” he insisted.
Early on, Fred worked part-time as a telegraph operator for the railroad. He was 14.”I learned Morse code to earn a merit badge in ‘wireless’ to qualify as maybe the first Eagle scout in Pennsylvania,” Fred explained. “A lot of the railroad’s Morse operators had left for the military in World War I, so I got some work as a relief operator.”
During high school, Fred worked for his uncle, George Motter, as an apprentice electrician.
“I attended school half-days and worked the other half,” he said. Fred earned a Journeyman’s Certificate as an electrician by the time he entered Pennsylvania State College.
He was a radio amateur, first with spark station 3OV at Boy Scout Troop No. 7 in the York, PA, YMCA, and then with his own continuous wave (CW) station, 3BVA. Access to electrical parts at his uncle’s company helped Fred to build these stations. From 1927 to 1933, he and John B. Knight Jr. operated W2ALU in New York and Passaic, New Jersey.
As a graduate electrical engineer in 1927, Fred went to work at New York Telephone and then, in 1929, DeForest Radio. In late 1931, Fred resigned from DeForest Radio along with a group of employees including the man who had hired him, Allen B. DuMont.
Fred had been in charge of tube manufacturing. A U.S. Navy radio inspector, Walter Peterman, suggested that Fred should consult the trustee of Duovac Radio Tube Company, Brooklyn, NY, to help the company to complete U.S. Navy orders for tubes. Fred did business for two years as “Fred M. Link, Consultant,” with Duovac and other tube manufacturers. By 1933, Fred had become partners with R.C. Powell in the R.C. Powell Company, which manufactured remote broadcast amplifiers and radios.
Once Fred told me he bought out Powell; another time he said Powell became overwhelmed by the business challenges of the Depression, turned the company over to Fred and left. Either way, Fred became sole owner, changed the name to “Fred M. Link Company” and went to work completing a Signal Corps contract for equipment.
The Link company made a variety of electronic equipment, assisted other manufacturers (including DuMont) and provided repair serv-ices before concentrating on police radio communications equipment under a new name, Link Radio Corporation. “Fred Budelman, our chief engineer, was brilliant,” Fred said. “He could take circuit diagrams, think about them overnight, and build prototypes the next day.”
What put Link Radio in the forefront was the manufacture of frequency-modulated (FM) two-way radio equipment.
“That was the brainchild of Dan Noble, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Connecticut,” Fred said. “He was consulting the state police on the design of a statewide communications network.”
Noble had monitored experimental FM broadcasts from Edwin H. Armstrong’s Alpine, NJ, station, and had developed an idea for using FM for communications.
“Noble visited Link Radio with diagrams and showed them to Budelman and me,” Fred said. “The next day, Budelman had prototypes.” Link Radio then built the Connecticut equipment.
With FM, Link Radio took the lead in police radio manufacturing, and later made equipment used by all military branches during World War II. His company earned five Army-Navy “E” awards. In 1950, Fred sold the company.
“I had been lucky many times,” Fred said, but luck ran out with the sale of the business. His buyers gave him preferred (non-voting) stock. “I didn’t need the cash,” Fred said. His buyers came under federal indictment for reasons I never learned and diverted company resources to pay their legal expenses. Link Radio was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy by 1952 and was liquidated in 1953. Fred went back to work.
In 1954, under a five-year contract with DuMont Laboratories, run by his old friend Allen DuMont, Fred established a mobile radio division and hired many former Link Radio employees. The division served many former Link Radio customers that had been left without replacement equipment and service.
After the contract was up, Gen. David Sarnoff, the head of Radio Corporation of America (RCA), told one of his vice presidents to hire Fred as a consultant to resolve a problem with an RCA contract to provide police radio equipment to the city of Philadelphia. The Sarnoffs had met the Links on a cruise ship, and Sarnoff knew Fred by reputation and because Fred had helped to prepare compelling legal exhibits in opposition to RCA in a patent dispute. More luck?
“Sarnoff told this vice president how much I was to be paid, and it was more than the vice president made. He didn’t like that very much,” Fred said. Fred’ s help saved the contract, and Sarnoff kept him as a consultant from 1959 to 1965.
After 1965, Fred worked as a consultant for a variety of companies. One was Cambridge, England-based Pye Telecommunications, which became part of Philips Radio Communications Systems, which is now Simoco Telecommunications. Another was Communications Industries, one of whose founders, Jerry Stover, credits a Link radio with saving his life in World War II-somewhat for its communications capability, and somewhat for its capacity to stop bullets, as Jerry tells the story.
Others to benefit from Fred’s expertise included Repco, E.F. Johnson, Ericsson, Trott Communications Group and … Mobile Radio Technology. Fred became our industry consultant in 1984. He advised us about information we should publish and introduced us to industry figures he thought we should know-and he knew almost everyone. In recent years, as his eyesight weakened, he wanted help at the many trade shows he attended. I accompanied him so often that people started calling me his “bodyguard.” I told him he was a “people magnet,” because he attracted so much attention as we walked the exhibit aisles. “I prefer ‘goodwill ambassador,’ Don, if you don’t mind,” he said.
Fred and his wife, Mildred, raised two daughters, Daryl, who died several years ago, and Joanne. They also raised American Saddlebred horses. “I can’t say that horse-breeding made any money,” Fred said. “But it brought me in contact with all the right people.” The horses usually were ridden in competition by the Links’ daughters. Their home, Robin Hill Farm, in Pittstown, NJ, contains countless awards and photographs from horse shows.
Fred led the Radio Club of America as president for 23 years, which also figured in the success of his consulting business.
Now you know something about Fred’s life, but you shoulda heard his stories. Like the “Great Texas Antenna Shoot,” wherein Fred’s customer and benefactor, oilman Jim West, organized a shooting party to “remove” a base station antenna that was mounted too high. And the “Radio Equipped Horse-drawn Delivery Cart” that, thanks to a New York City ordinance, always went ahead of motorized trucks at the docks to pick up supplies for Link Radio. And the “Electric Windows That Sold the Radios,” wherein foreign buyers, fascinated by electric windows on a Cadillac given to Fred by Jim West, agreed to a purchase while spending most of their time working the windows instead of watching the demonstration of radio equipment in the car.
And the “Lyndon Johnson Waiver,” wherein the then-Senate majority leader called the FCC and obtained a waiver for Fred to install 3,000-watt VHF lowband base stations to communicate by skip with mobiles and airplanes across the United States. And Fred’s travel to Havana and Mexico City to sell police radios. And many more.
Fred used to tell me, “Don, don’t get old; you won’t like it.”
I would say, “First of all, what’s the alternative? Second, if you’re any example, what’s wrong with it?”
“I guess you’re right,” he would concede. “I’ve been lucky.”
Fred was lucky, although he also was prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that good fortune brought him, and he recognized those opportunities, and that made the difference. And I know I was lucky to know him. God bless you, Fred.
Fred M. Link was my mentor and my good friend. My life was enriched by his friendship, and I shall forever cherish the memories of our many wonderful times together.
Fred passed away on June 18, 1998. It was a sad day for all of us in the land mobile industry. Fred was revered as the “father of two-way radio.” Hardly a person in the industry didn’t know Fred personally or by reputation. Fred was 93 when he passed away. His age, though, never stopped him from being as involved in the industry as his health would permit. As recently as the first week in June, Fred signed some letters announcing his resignation from the Radio Club banquet contributions committee. Committee? He was the committee! And until June 18, 1998, Fred was industry consultant to Mobile Radio Technology.
I am reminded of the wonderful times I shared with Fred. He once chastised me for not being present at one of his many keynote speeches.
“They tell me I was magnificent!” he proclaimed with a straight face. And I have no doubt that he was. Fred was quite a gifted speaker. For years he was the featured speaker at the Radio Club of America breakfasts, and how we looked forward to his presentations. We sat there mesmerized by his stories about Silver Dollar Jim West or about the time he and Johnny Knight entered a DX contest and transmitted from their room at the New York City YMCA with bootlegged power from an elevator. Their operation caused so much interference to AM broadcast radio reception that authorities traced the source to their room. Fred had so many wonderful experiences to share. Remember his many adventures with Bill Lear, and how he met Nikola Tesla? Fred would stray from his story, and maybe take two or three digressions, but he always tied everything together in the end. Part of the fun of listening was wondering how in the world he would tie what he was talking about to what he had started to talk about in the first place.
As my friendship with Fred grew, so did my relationship with his lovely wife, Mildred, and his daughter, Joanne. Fred and Mildred are affectionately called “Dazzy” and “Memi” by their children, grandchildren and close friends. Memi and Joanne share Fred’s wonderful sense of humor, amazing energy and ability to make you feel like you are their best friend. I asked Memi if there was anything we could do for her. She said she would like to have a collection of Fred’s “one liners.” If you knew Fred you know of his special, and sometimes not too humble, way of saying things.
Memi always got a kick out of hearing about them and would like to have a collection of them in remembrance of Fred. If you have any stories you would like to share with Memi please send them to me at Mobile Radio Technology, or you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to be able to give Memi a nice collection of “Fred stories.”
In one of my last conversations with Fred, I told him that things were just not the same without his full involvement. I told him that we were trying to carry on like he expected us to, but that it would never be the same. His “one-liner” response was; “Well, that can’t be denied, that can’t be denied.”
Dazzy, you were special, and we will miss you terribly. There will never be another quite like you. And that can’t be denied, Dazzy. That can’t be denied.