Five minutes with a feed Guru
a brief interview with Gerry Blachley
By Tim Alderman
There were many questions unanswered in my mind about feeds used for satellite systems. Since my early involvement with the TVRO industry, now some eleven years ago, I was aware that ADL feeds “looked different” than the others. They were larger and heavier, for one thing. Another was they lacked a series of concentric rings, called “scaler rings” used on other brands.
My early investigations also showed a performance difference. ADL feeds had a margin of improved performance over others. Then, of course, there was the “TI” issue. Terrestrial interference was suppressed better by ADL feeds and I doubt if there is anyone willing to argue that. I also found that ADL had better cross pole isolation, which is important in all installations, and critical in commercial ones.
Thus my backyard had always seen ADL feeds. Of course, I had TI that was 20 times worse than any customer installation. In Moscow, on the roof of the communist party central committee’s hotel, back in 1991, it was an ADL feed that captured MTV from Astra, a satellite deemed by others to be to weak for reception that far east of maps showing the satellite’s footprint.
The RP-1 is his flagship product. It uses “hybrid moding” to capture part of both of the components present in an RF field, the “electrostatic” as well as the “electromagnetic” fields. Scaler feeds ignore one completely because they cannot cope with the 90 degrees of phase shift between them. “Hybrid Moded” feeds also exhibit better control of VSWR and the impedance changes that a feed must produce to properly couple signals from the reflector to the LNB.
Equally interesting was the man behind ADL. Always with strong opinions, Gerry Blachley had held ADL together despite the 1986 disaster which drove 80% of the business in TVRO under. He was steadfast in refusing to compromise his design at first, but gradually came to realize his problems were with marketing and not excellence or quality. For one thing, the man INSISTED that all reflectors be “shallow”, meaning f to d ratios be .375 or greater. His RP-1 capitalized on this by having a superior “illumination taper” than the others. His designs came from a man who also designed the feed systems for the Pioneer series of deep space craft launched by NASA. He also designed and marketed a Circular Polarized feed, called the RP-1 CP-400.
But the market would NOT listen. The manufacturers kept sending out .3 to .35 reflectors. His feeds took a performance “hit” because they didn’t “illuminate” the entire surface. And he lost sales to the “scaler” feeds which had such things as “adjustable f to d” and “gold rings” which changed illumination taper at a cost of VSWR.
Always the inventor, Gerry solved this problem by introducing his RP-2 feed around 1990. This lacked the precise illumination taper of the RP-1 but kept the essential “moding” characteristics. For “deep dish” reflectors it solved the problems of performance penalties from scaler feeds with gold rings.
Around 1993 Gerry shocked his loyal fans with two events: He “licensed” Cal-Amp to produce his feeds under their name, and he introduced the RP-3, which is a true ADL feed on the rear half, but with the front end “scaler” instead of hybrid moded design.
Gerry also found another, even more insidious problem... His design, although patented, was copied by a much larger company, Chaparral Communications. Gerry found himself spending more and more time in the lawyer’s office than in his workshop and laboratory. By this year he has spent $1.6 million in court costs and attorney fees trying to get Chaparral to pay him damages. Even with several court judgments against “brand C” he has yet to collect any money.
Gerry has always regarded me kindly. From the very beginning he has given me product as well as sold me stuff at prices well below wholesale. I am not sure exactly why I have deserved such treatment, but it has made me loyal in my support of him and his efforts. I also have made a point to be on good speaking terms with his wife Virginia, who also works in the business. In 1990 I visited them on “easy street” where they rented a warehouse full of machine tools. Stepping gingerly past piles of lathe shavings, he took me into his inter sanctum and showed me a test of two motors. One was “brand C” and one was one of his. This guy had found a motor at least 4 times as powerful, yet only in a slightly larger case. I found that my fingers COULD NOT STOP the armature from turning, they hurt from the effort! The “brand C” was a joke by comparison. He also “isolated” his motor from the feed assembly with a thick nylon spacer, preventing moisture ingress which can occur during freezing weather.
New Zealand was where I visited recently, having helped assemble 4 .31 f to d deep reflectors for Doubtless Bay Cable and the Barrycourt hotel. While at the Barrycourt, I noticed a black feed being used as a doorstop. Inspecting this feed, it looked like a cheap “knock-off” or copy of Gerry’s CP-300. Knowing the Gerry was always vigilant about protecting his designs by patent, I thought I’d do him a favor by getting this particular feed into his hands. There seemed to be a lot of these “pirate ADL” feeds floating around, though they lacked the sheer polish of the product they imitated.
Upon returning home, I called Gerry. He knew all about it, he said, for it came from a mold he’d seen in New Guinea years before. Nevertheless, at my gentle urging he agreed to accept the feed. I then wanted to order an RP2 as I knew my sponsor at Doubtless Bay Cable was using a “brand C” feed which was not giving all the signal he had paid so dearly for. To my surprise, Gerry agreed to “trade” feeds! This was an offer I could not refuse, a “doorstop” for at least a dB of additional signal.
Needless to say, my sponsor sent me a fax stating that I had indeed scored an additional dB, at least! SUCH PERFORMANCE COULD NOT BE IGNORED, especially in New Zealand. Having decided I could help the TVRO industry get a start there, I wanted to see if Gerry would consider a booth at the upcoming trade show in January, down in Auckland. His demeanor on the telephone suggested he could not afford to spend time away from his lawyers, however.
I decided it was high time to pay him another visit, so I gathered sponsorship for a 1,052 mile trip south to Simi Valley in southern California. I had questions that couldn’t be answered any other way.
I took a chance in meeting him at all. He’d been out of his office so often, bent on the legal pursuits, that when I tried to call he was out. Finally I reached Virginia. She agreed to meet me as I knew she could at least answer some things. So I gathered my wife, bundled her into the car, and we headed south at dawn, hoping to make ADL by mid-afternoon. Hopefully we might even be able to catch the man himself.
We arrived twenty minutes early. The front door was locked, so I poked my nose in the back and asked one of the lathe operators where Virginia was. He said she and Gerry were at lunch. Ah ha, maybe I might see the elusive feed guru after all!
After a brief tour of downtown Simi Valley we returned, this time the black pickup truck Virginia had mentioned was in front. NAT ADL it said on the license plate, so I knew SOMEBODY was there..
Just as I walked up to the front door, Gerry was walking out. He of course recognized me, and stopped to chat. He stood as I went inside his small “lobby” which has 2 display cases loaded with copies of perhaps every feed he was ever manufactured. One feed in particular stood out: the black feed I had sent him. The “doorstop” had made it to his lobby!
TIM: I was hoping I could meet you today, do you have a few minutes to talk?
GERRY: Not really. I was going out to meet some real estate agents who want to sell me a warehouse. I’m tired of renting and want to own my own place for a change. I’m due there in ten minutes.
TIM: Well, did Virginia tell you I was coming? While I hoped to see you, I can perhaps get her to answer some of my questions. If you’ll answer just a couple of things I’ll get her to fill in the rest.
GERRY: Ohh, Okay, let me call them and tell them I’ll be a couple of minutes late then.
TIM: I see the “pirate ADL” black feed made it here (pointing to display case). Did you ever get a chance to show it to your lawyers?
GERRY: Yes, and they are looking into it. But I’m not worried about that feed. Like I told you on the telephone, I know that design is the same I’ve seen before. I did have our crew test it, and it is no where close to our performance. The cross-pole isolation in that feed is almost nil. They will burn themselves out once people catch on.
TIM: You know I’ve been working on getting a new ADL distributor going down in New Zealand, don’t you?
GERRY: Uh huh. Well I know that we just shipped out 30 RP1 CP400’s to Papua New Guineas last week. The should keep them supplied for a while. I’m not sure what type of a market is down there, yet.
TIM: I’m not sure we are talking about the same folks, Gerry. If New Zealand TVRO takes off, I imagine my friend at Bay Satellite TV LTD will be ordering 30 feeds a week, if not more.
GERRY: I really don’t care what sales are like these days, I haven’t got time to be concerned with that. Al of my energy is going into this lawsuit (sigh). As long as sales are steady then I’m not worried. Besides, we are down to only four distributors here now. They seem to move our stuff without any problems.
TIM: My sponsor down there reports that your RP-2, the one we exchanged for that black feed, gives him at least a dB of performance gain. He also reports 5dB improvement in cross pole isolation.
GERRY: Well I’m not surprised, we’ve measured up to 12dB improvement here. Besides he has so many of our feeds down there already. We’ve been sending them to him for years.
TIM: Well I only saw one, Gerry..
TIM: I have been meaning to ask you this for a long time. If the RP-1 is such a superior design, why did you introduce the RP-3?
GERRY: We were forced to. So many folks want that damned scalar design, for some reason they think that having adjustibility of the feed for different f to d ratios answers all their problems. It’s a crap design, it really is.
TIM: So why do you sell an inferior designed product then?
GERRY: They outsell the rest of our products twenty-five to one! You know there is more to a feed than meets the eye. We still have our probe design inside and that still gives it some oomph over others.
TIM: My last technical question. New Zealand TVRO has need for a combination feed that works C band both circular and linear. Would you consider it feasible to design a single feed to cover both, without a 3dB performance penalty?
GERRY: We already have! The RP-1 CP400 will work on linear satellites providing the interior plates are positioned PRECISELY. There will be no “skew” on linear but it will work.
TIM: Ohh REALLY! What are the losses, in comparison with the RP-1?
GERRY: You must make sure that the feed is really set up right for it to work, then the loss will be negligible, say, around .2dB.
TIM: Well Gerry, this is all very interesting. I don’t want to keep you from your real estate deal. Will you still be located in Simi Valley?
GERRY: Ohh, of course, we’re not going anywhere.
TIM: Thanks for taking time to talk with me this afternoon, Gerry. This puts a lot of questions I’ve had to rest, and makes my trip down here very worthwhile.
After Gerry left, I saw Virginia, who was searching for the Trade Show literature for the January show. After failing to find it, I agreed to get her a new set of literature. Whether or not they actually show up in January is still open to question, but at least there is some interest. I did see a copy of SF#15 with me on the cover, so I know they are at least getting their subscriptions.