Sunday, January 25, 2015

History of Bates County: Butler Business Heard Around the World


In a single click, a voice, converted to an electrical impulse, would leave a particular piece of equipment at the speed of light. That transmission would eventually bounce off the lower part of our atmosphere back to another place, possibly halfway around the world; where another person would hear it and reply back with a friendly how-do-you-do. All within mere seconds.

No, this isn't a telephone. It certainly was not the internet. 

The year was 1927 when they easiest way to have a conversation with someone thousands of miles away was by shortwave radio. Also known as ham or amateur radio, it was all the craze. To boot, Robert E. Henry saw it as a huge business opportunity that could be based right here in Butler, Mo.

And the rest is world-wide history.
Henry Radio on north Main Street in Butler,
circa, early 1980's

The first Henry Radio shop was opened primarily selling parts and equipment for the growing hobby of ham radio. Brothers Ted and Walter joined him in the venture, as they were equally fascinated that someone could push a button and speak with someone in Germany. Or Uruguay. Or beyond. 

In 1941, Ted branched out by opening the second Henry Radio shop in Los Angeles on the Westwood Boulevard strip, which proved to be a prime location. Things continued to improve for Ted; his first employee, Meredith Manley, became his wife just a few years later.

The Henry bothers hit a big obstacle December 7, 1941. During wartime, the hobby of ham radio was suspended, due to security concerns. Sales dropped sharply and now there was a glut of unused ham radio equipment as operators could not even turn it on- so many opted to sell it. Cheap.

Flipside, this posed an opportunity to the Henry brothers- buy equipment from from hams and resell it to MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System) facilities around the world. The plan worked. 

The war came with yet another chance to expand business for Henry Radio. A key piece of
equipment needed for radios was a crystal oscillator, and the brothers promptly opened a crystal manufacturing company that boasted two locations, one in California and one in Butler, Mo.

In the years to follow, the company kept growing as the Los Angeles store expanded and new products were put on the shelf in both locations. Established radio manufacturers such as Hallicrafters and Collins had been a mainstay for Henry Radio and new lines by Drake, Swan and others were added. The company, as a whole was busier then they had ever been.

While business was already thriving, in 1962, Ted Henry took on a new project of making vacuum tube type amplifiers. As the market changed, the amplifier business finally closed down in 2005 after selling some 40,000 units to ham enthusiasts around the world in their tenure.

By the mid 1960's, Walter had opened yet another location, this time in Anaheim, California. It was around this time the stores had added consumer electronics such as televisions and household radios to their inventory. The company sold consumer electronics some 30 years, until heavy competition from discounters forced them to drop out of that market.

The 1970's saw change, mostly from vacuum tube type to transistor based equipment. Henry Radio didn't miss an opportunity with this monumental transition either- They were the first company in the United States authorized to sell the now famous Kenwood line, made in Japan.

In it's heyday, Henry Radio employed more than a handful of local folks who repaired units, did shipping/receiving and handled the day to day operations at the Butler store. Some included were George Ray, Mike McGrath, Shirley Umstattd, Bob Hawkins, Bobby Henry, Marge Rutledge, Helen DeArmond, Doris Hutchinson, Julie McGuire and Dorothy Linard.

The Butler location was closed in 1985, shortly after the passing of Robert E. (Bob) Henry.

During the 1990's, the company started the construction and management of a multi-site 470 MHz trunking radio communication system to service dispatch type business in Southern California.

Today, Henry Radio continues to sell the Bird line of RF test equipment, boasting they are the oldest dealer, selling millions of dollars of Bird equipment. Henry Radio is also a premier seller of Tohtsu coaxial relays from Japan. The company also still manages the trunked radio system and market an assortment of radio accessories and specialized RF parts and equipment.