Richard Johnson
Richard Brian Johnson
Born October 3, 1943
Place of birth Worcester, Massachusetts
Occupation Engineer
Hobbies Flying
Piano composition

Richard B. Johnson

Richard Brian Johnson is the author of Abominable Firebug [1]  (ISBN 0-595-38667-9). A graduate of the Lyman School for Boys, [2]  Johnson invented the Rubber Ducky Antenna [3, 4]  while a resident of this famous reform school.

While a High School student at Boston’s Roslindale High School, Johnson invented an acoustic gyroscope as a science fair project. [27]  His physics teacher got him an audience with Sperry Gyroscope, at the time a leading gyroscope developer. His physics teacher hoped that Sperry would offer Johnson a scholarship and employment after college. Instead, Sperry obtained a federal court order baring any further investigation or development of the project. Many years later, it became apparent that somebody thought Johnson had uncovered the “secrets” of the Laser Gyroscope. This was at the height of the Cold War and it was likely the United States government did not want this information divulged because it was extremely useful for ICBM guidance. Johnson documents this project in his book, Abominable Firebug, Abominable Firebug.[1] 

Early work
As a young child, Richard was an active amateur radio operator with the call sign, K1KLR. After he moved away from Massachusetts, his call sign became W3CBD. Once Richard obtained a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) First Class Radiotelephone License, [5,60]  he became so involved with his work at radio and television stations that he gave up amateur radio activity altogether. These licenses are now replaced by the “General Radiotelephone Operator’s License.”[24] 

Before leaving the Broadcast Industry as a Broadcaster, Johnson worked at a number of radio and television stations in the northeast. As told in his book, Johnson designed and constructed an AM Broadcast Transmitter while working at radio station WDEW. This transmitter obtained FCC Type Acceptance as the Johnson Associates RBJ/1-C. Johnson was only eighteen years of age at the time.

Early solid-state design
Eventually, Johnson obtained an engineering degree and returned to the Broadcast Industry as an equipment designer. He helped bring the budding solid-state technology to that industry. [6, 7]  At the time of Johnson’s entry into the broadcast equipment industry, there were many stereo multiplex generators in use, which did not work. Therefore, one of Johnson’s first projects was to design a generator that could retrofit existing generators in the field. This product was so successful that the Federal Communications Commission purchased several to use for testing stereophonic modulation monitors. [7]  A more modern design, in fact the last stereophonic generator designed by Johnson is shown here.[51] 

When Johnson was searching the web in hopes of finding some documentation for his early solid-state designs, to compliment some photos that he proudly keeps in his scrapbook, he noticed that his name no longer exists in the ongoing rewrite of history. The surviving companies now claim the major developments made by persons at companies that no longer exist. This is unfortunate because it leaves the impression that the last innovator of broadcast transmitter design was Fritz Bauer. [17]  Nevertheless, the first all solid-state AM broadcast transmitter to be type accepted by the FCC was the Cetec-Sparta SS1000A that Johnson designed. [25]  He also designed the first all solid-state FM broadcast transmitter.

In the period of these early developments, there were many obstacles to overcome in addition to equipment design. For instance, the FCC (the regulatory authority) required that the “final amplifier plate voltage and plate current be metered.” They also required that the indicating instruments have a scale that was at least 3½ (now changed to 2.3) inches in length, and contained at least 40 divisions. This was problematical for solid-state equipment that did not have “plate voltage” or “plate current” and needed to use digital indicating instruments. This meant that rule changes were required. Other FCC rule changes that Johnson authored removed the requirements for crystal ovens and thermometers to measure crystal temperatures. The engineers at the FCC’s standards division knew Johnson on a first-name basis. This helped produce the necessary rule changes that made it relatively easy for competitors to certify their equipment in the future.

“Solid-state design in those early days was very difficult,” says Johnson, “Every transistor was different. It was possible to hand select transistors, but what do you do with the rejects? The solution seemed to be to use many more solid-state devices than was proved necessary, then double the number!”

Prolific designer
When Johnson was designing radio transmitters for the broadcast industry, it is likely that he became the most prolific of all radio transmitter designers. His credits include the complete design of two 50,000 watt AM transmitters, the highest power allowed in the United States, plus AM and FM designs with licensed power levels ranging from 10 watts to 70,000 watts. Johnson even designed some of the frequency-standard transmitters used by the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). [35, 36]  These designs remain in use by broadcasting stations world-wide, demonstrating remarkable stability and reliability.

Broadcast transmitter maturation
In the early 1980s, broadcast transmitter design had matured, and many transmitter companies went out of business. The few that remained developed equipment only for the replacement market. Johnson left Elcom-Bauer in Sacramento, California, where he been heading up the engineering department, and started work at General Electric’s Advanced Development Group, in Rancho Cordova, California. This departure from the broadcast transmitter industry to the medical equipment industry helped put to use some of Johnson’s old skills as well as some new ones he developed. The Rancho Cordova group developed Phased-Array Ultrasound, which used techniques which were not unlike the directional antenna theory Johnson had mastered as a broadcast equipment designer. Johnson had taken a recent interest in software as well, learning FORTRAN, Assembly Language, and Pascal. The ‘C’ Language was new at the time and Johnson was starting to experiment with it. With these skills, Johnson helped develop Phased Array Ultrasound. Johnson worked at the Rancho Cordova facility until its closure. Much of his interest gravitated to software and he managed the facility’s VAX/VMS Computers as well as writing software for many developmental projects.

When General Electric closed the Rancho Cordova facility, Johnson declined an invitation to continue his career with General Electric in Milwaukee and joined the Irex Division of Johnson & Johnson, where he helped develop a digital version of the phased-array system he developed at General Electric. This was called the “System IIIB.” The initial system, using only 32 channels, outperformed the 64-channel analog version developed at General Electric. Johnson left Irex when its parent company closed the Ramsey, New Jersey facility. He continued his career in medical electronics with his present employer where he has been designing state-of-the-art equipment for over twenty years.[49, 50, 52, 53] 

Recent work
In recent times, Johnson has been involved with the invention and development of more modern technology like U.S. patent 5,577,026 [8]  and European patent application 0737370. [9]  Although he started working for his present employer over 25 years ago as a RF design engineer, Johnson now works as a full-time software engineer for this technology company in Massachusetts. He has an ongoing involvement with the company’s major product developments. [52, 53]  Johnson is also a FAA licensed commercial pilot and obtained his first license in 1971.

Software development
Once home computers became commonplace, Johnson developed the PROGRAM EXCHANGE BBS System. Initially its software was written entirely in assembly language, first for a CP/M machine that used an Ampro “Little-Board,” the Z-80 version, and then later for a MS-DOS, PC/AT clone. The PROGRAM EXCHANGE was one of the first BBS systems that provided free access to source-code. In fact, that is what its purpose was.

Johnson wrote many public domain utilities in the early days of BBS systems. For example, one would necessarily transfer files one-at-a-time. Since modems ran at 300 baud, it was a long boring wait to send a file of any length. Then, there was the problem of sending multiple files. Some innovator provided a utility that would combine multiple files, and then provide a mechanism for extracting them at the destination. In this manner, multiple files or even the contents of a floppy disk could transfer, without manually having to manipulate each file. This utility was a “Library” utility. The associated filenames always ended in ‘LBR.’ Johnson improved upon this utility by providing data compression. Such files were “squished,” and the resulting filename ended in ‘LBQ.’ This was an early precursor of the common ‘ZIP’ files of today, which have an interesting history. [18, 19] 

With the BBS came the need for a robust file-transfer protocol. New modems were becoming available that transferred data at 9,600 baud and even faster. These modems were not very robust, resulting in many data errors with the poor telephone lines of the day. Therefore, Johnson created a file-transfer protocol called JMODEM. It was the first known file-transfer protocol to perform runtime compression of the data. It featured a variable-length block structure and a 16-bit CRC. [10, 11, 12, 55]  Since much of the line-noise was periodic (auto ignition interference, flashing neon signs, etc), the variable length short blocks created by data compression and the large number of built-in retries, went a long ways towards improving file-transfer capability. Eventually the Internet superseded BBS Systems and the PROGRAM EXCHANGE shut down. Interestingly, Johnson was one of the first to discover “hacker vulnerabilities” in on-line systems as this link shows.[34]  Of course, this is so commonplace nowadays that it’s hardly worth mentioning! Johnson said, “I didn’t take writing software very seriously. I thought it was just an interesting phase and that eventually machines would be doing it with little or no input from humans.”

Once Johnson started to write software professionally, he made operating systems and application software for embedded systems. One of his first operating systems was for the Analogic [33]  2030 arbitrary function generator. This used a NEC V-40 processor and a Motorola 56000 DSP. Upon its success, Johnson designed an operating system for Analogic’s first CAT scanner. Later, he designed one for the company’s first baggage scanner. In all, Johnson designed three different multitasking operating systems. Meanwhile, Linus Torvalds’ Linux Operating System evolved to the extent where it was reliable enough for embedded applications. Johnson then supported Linux for embedded applications and became involved with helping to report, and sometimes fix, various bugs and other such discrepancies.[26]  He is often quoted in technical references.[46, 47, 48]  To support booting the Linux operating system on an AMD SC520 processor, Johnson developed a complete PC/AT compatible BIOS. [43, 56]  Recent software development is a complete suite of mathematics routines for creating a virtual oscilloscope with both time-domain and frequency-domain analysis.[54]  Once Johnson started writing software for a living, its interest as a hobby waned. Now Johnson spends more time on his motorcycle and in his airplane. Johnson did however; write these web pages the “hard way,” by hand with a text editor. “I like to keep my hand in interesting new things,” says Johnson, “at least until they become work!”

Technical associations
Johnson is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE),[28]  IEEE Computer Society, [29]  IEEE Communications Society, [30]  Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), [31]  American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), [32]  and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). [33] 

Private life
From time to time, Johnson would encounter some event that he thought needed some immediate attention or a unique perspective. Even the President of the United States has acknowledged his queries. [14]  Johnson’s background, shown in his book, made him bold enough to attempt to communicate with presidents and other important people. This boldness is often rewarded, sometimes with invitations to events that many only dream about. [16]  While working for WACE in Chicopee, Johnson was supplying a CBS Radio Network audio feed for President Kennedy’s address at Amherst College in October 1963. [15]  After the event, President Kennedy shook Johnson’s hand. This came about because Johnson’s audio feed was the only one that worked! He arranged with the AT&T test-board to patch the feed to the other networks covering the event. This got Johnson an invitation to attend a private media affair at the Gaslight Lounge, in Amherst, after the event. This was one of President Kennedy’s last public addresses. Johnson was repairing his car in the parking lot of the Chicopee radio station on November 22, 1963 when the word of Kennedy’s assassination came over the news wire.

Publishing his first book
Richard wrote Abominable Firebug to shed some light on the ongoing problems with juvenile correctional institutions and to help validate the work of many who dedicated their lives to helping America’s throwaway children. After publishing his recent book, Johnson has been active giving talks for various focus groups as well as on-line discussion forums. [13]  The underlying theme for these talks has been to get the word out that the juvenile justice system is in a crisis state, and the closing of the training schools has not been a good thing.

Johnson has continued to be a “behind-the-scenes” activist in Constitutional and Civil Rights issues. He is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, [22]  an ACLU member, [21]  and a member of the NAACP. [23]  If you read his book, you will understand why this “white-boy” is a member of the NAACP, and why you probably should be, too. Johnson also invites readers to send short stories that he can display on his website. [20]  There are several stories from successful Lyman School graduates. Sadly, there are also some stories about boys who continued to have troubles later in life. “Although the Lyman School taught one to live a disciplined life,” says Johnson, “the one thing it did not teach was that each person needs to make his own happiness.”

Johnson flies his own airplane and has a commercial pilot’s license. He also rides a motorcycle to work most days and rebuilds old houses in his spare time. In addition, Johnson sets aside some time each day to practice the piano. [37]  Johnson has helped others record their piano works, by recording, editing, and providing assistance in his home recording studio. [38, 39]  Typically, Johnson plays a MIDI piano, edits the result towards perfection, and then makes a final acoustic recording from the edited MIDI data. Photography is an additional hobby. [42]  Johnson has contributed many excellent photographs published in Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. [40, 41, 57, 58, 59]  Johnson occasionally discusses technical issues and writes about current events in various technical publications. [44, 45, 48]

Much of Johnson’s life has centered around his job and his profession. At the age of 65, Johnson’s job was terminated after over twenty years at the same company. You can read about it here.

   1. Johnson, Richard B., Abominable Firebug (2006) iUniverse
   2. Lyman School for Boys the nation’s first reform school
   3. Rubber Ducky Antenna
   4. Origin of the Rubber Ducky Antenna
   5. History of FCC licenses
   6. Johnson, Richard B., FM stereo A new guide for an old subject, Broadcast Engineering (January 1974) pages 25 thru 27
   7. Johnson’s first stereo generator design used by the FCC to certify FM Stereo monitors
   8.  Invention for transferring high-speed data across a moving interface U.S. patent 5,577,026
   9. European filing for the same invention EP patent application 0737370
 10. Original JMODEM documentation
 11. The C version of JMODEM documentation
 12. Java script for JMODEM
 13. Typical online discussion
 14. A letter from the White House
 15. President Kennedy’s speeches
 16. An invitation from the President of the United States
 17. Fritz Bauer’s model 707 transmitter
 18. The “ZIP” files from ARC’s perspective
 19. The “ZIP” files from Phil Katz’s perspective
 20. Reports and stories from readers
 21. American Civil Liberties Union
 22. National Rifle Association
 23. About the NAACP
 24. The remaining FCC licenses
 25. The first 1 kW solid-state AM broadcast transmitter
 26. Typical Linux Kernel interaction
 27. Johnson’s High School science fair project
 28. IEEE web site
 29. IEEE Computer Society
 30. IEEE Communications Society
 31. Association for Computing Machinery
 32. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
 32. Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
 33. Analogic Corporation article on Wikipedia
 34. Discovered security breach in BBS software
 35. NIST frequency-standard transmitters
 36. Interior of a 10,000 watt NIST frequency-standard transmitter designed by Richard B. Johnson
 37. Johnson plays the piano
 38. Joey Edwards recordings produced and edited by Richard B. Johnson
 39. Other Joey Edwards recordings produced and edited by Richard B. Johnson in his studio
 40. Photograph used in the North Brookfield, Massachusetts Wikipedia entry
 41. Photograph used in the Quaboag River Wikipedia entry
 42. Johnson’s photo gallery
 43. AMD SC520 BIOS source code
 44. Johnson discusses American engineering jobs in EE Times
 45. Johnson discusses software issues on Linux-Kernel list
 46. Johnson cited in technical references
 47. Johnson reports the Intel Pentium F00F bug
 48. Johnson explains Amplitude Modulation using graphics, mathematics, and software
 49. Philips CAT Scanner developments featured by BBC News. Analogic makes equipment like this.
 50. Analogic Corporation website.
 51. McMartin Industries B-110R Stereo Generator
 52. Johnson designed and wrote the operating system and control software for this reliable machine.
 53. EE Times article on the development of the scanner shown above.
 54. Software and documentation for a virtual spectrum analyzer
 55. JMODEM File transfer protocol C source-code
 56. Johnson’s free software source-code
 57. Encyclopedia Britannica Chicopee Falls Dam at Chicopee, Massachusetts
 58. Encyclopedia Britannica Nashua River at Fitchburg, Massachusetts
 59. Encyclopedia Britannica Millers River at Athol, Massachusetts
 60. Johnson’s FCC Licenses

External links
Author’s website
Photos of the 2008 NAB Convention taken by Johnson
Digital tones and generating software by Johnson

This webpage was written by Paul Sellenthin, publicist. The contents of this webpage may be copied at will as no copyright protection is claimed.