Jensen Transformers was founded in 1974 by Deane Jensen as part of his quest for excellent studio sound. He believed the transformers of the era were of a substandard quality, and our field has benefitted from his research and dedication ever since. When Deane tragically passed away in 1989 he left his business to Bill Whitlock, who has maintained the level of quality ever since. This year, after decades of using their products, Peter Janis — the owner of Radial Engineering — purchased Jensen Transformers (see our sidebar interview). It was great to chat with Bill about Jensen and how transformers actually work.
Missiles and Op Amps
I basically moved to California in 1970 after growing up in Florida. I had graduated from school back in Florida, and I had some jobs. One of them, after I worked there for a year and got my top secret clearance, I found out that the reason they were so obsessed with the quality was that we were making the trigger mechanisms for H-bombs, so I got out of that for moral reasons. I did learn a lot about electronic components and how they fail. At the laboratory I worked in, we torture-tested resistors and capacitors and parts with outrageous extremes. Then we analyzed how and why they failed. That taught me a lot. Then I worked almost a year for a company, a division of Schlumberger, the French oil exploration company. I worked on airborne telemetry systems, which involved a lot of very high-speed discrete op amps, voltage controlled oscillators and things. I was fortunate enough to work under a brilliant analog designer who taught me a lot. I built a lot of his breadboards and we analyzed designs. I felt like I was very privileged to learn a lot about the secrets of discrete op amps. Then I saw an ad in the newspaper that RCA was hiring technicians for jobs in missile tracking stations. This was in 1968, when the draft was on, and I was not too excited about the prospect of going to Vietnam. I figured this would get me a deferment at the very least. They gave me a test that I essentially aced, and they said I could just choose where I'd like to be. They offered me positions at tracking stations on little islands in the South Atlantic, South Pacific, or work aboard one of their two missile tracking ships. The ship job sounded particularly fascinating, so I took a job on board a missile tracking ship. It was this 520-foot ship that was a converted World War II troop carrier. They had instrumented this with huge radar dishes. There was no mistaking what this boat was about. It was painted white, had an 80 foot L-band radar dish and a 60 foot C-band radar dish, a telemetry dish, and it worked largely in the Pacific, largely tied up at Pearl Harbor. Every time they were test firing missiles out of the air force base, they would send us out a few miles from the intended test splash position, and then we would acquire tracking on these missiles when they'd break the horizon and track them all the way to splash. Then we'd send secret reports back to the Air Force on how the thing deployed, the chaff clouds, the multiple re-entry vehicles, and all that good stuff. I worked in the navigation division and learned more than I ever wanted to know, actually. It was totally state of the art. We had to do drills on getting them removed from the equipment and thrown overboard in less than five minutes in case we were ever to be boarded by someone. This was back in the days when the U-2 pilot [Francis Gary Powers] had been captured. They warned us that we'd potentially be taken prisoner. We did actually go on spy missions once a year. We ended up off the coast of Kamchatka spying on the Russians; collecting data on their missiles. I was not really in the military, but everybody thought we were. We had status on military bases. They treated us like officers and whatnot. It was fun. I learned a lot there too.
On Deane Jensen's passing
It was his custom every Saturday morning to go out for a walk. We'd be working at home, and around 10 or 11 o'clock, he'd go out for a walk through the neighborhood. He wanted to do it alone, because he said that it helped him to get his thoughts together. He went out for a walk one Saturday morning, and he didn't come back. That afternoon I started calling around, wondering where he'd gone. I called a couple of friends I knew and asked if anybody'd seen Deane. I never was able to locate him. Monday...