Under the Radar

Vets in Tech: Craig Campbell, Klipsch Audio

BY NATHAN WERTZ - THISANDTHATTECH.COM

U.S. Navy veteran Craig Campbell is an engineering technician for Klipsch, which specializes in audio equipment ranging from standalone speakers, home theater equipment, to headphones. Craig shares his military transition story with us along with various aspects of a career in the audio field.

Can you give us a bit of your background on where you grew up and what life was like for you?

I grew up here in Indianapolis and I got out of high school and was hanging with the wrong crowd. Really couldn’t afford to go to college. I finally decided I needed to do something. The only way I could get an education was joining the military, so that's what I did.

And I think that pretty much saved me from going down the wrong roads. That definitely turned my life around and gave me something, gave me some education, and got me where I am today.

What branch did you join?

The Navy.

Any reason you chose the Navy over other military branches?

They had better schools and you got to do a little traveling. You weren't gone -- you know there's more chance of doing that than being stuck somewhere in one place for four years.

And my brother was in the Navy.

Were you both serving at the same time?

We did for a very short time. Actually, I requested to be on the ship he was on, but unfortunately by the time I got there he had left. And that was the Mount Whitney, which was a command ship for the Sixth Fleet.

I was on a cruiser, an aircraft carrier, and a submarine.

[Craig served on the USS MOUNT WHITNEY LCC-20, USS AMERICA CV-66, and the USS HENRY L. STIMSON SSBN-655].

(USS Mount Whitney LCC-20. Image is the work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy and is part of the public domain).

How was life on the submarine? What was that experience like?

Well, I was on an aircraft carrier and did a seven month Med cruise and they were going to turn around and go back on a nine month one. I didn’t really want to do that again, so I volunteered for subs to get off the aircraft carrier. And so went to sub school and got on a ballistic sub.

And you know it was good duty. You're basically three months on, three months off. So yeah, I enjoyed the submarine duty quite a bit, actually.

What was your position, rank, and how many years did you serve?

 

I was an interior communications electrician in the Navy. I was getting ready to make second class petty officer if I had just stayed in another day. I only did four years. I really wanted to take the advanced electronics, but I had to do six. Kind of wish I would have. Sometimes I wish I had stayed in, you know? 

(Craig receiving his "Dolphins" on patrol from his captain and the accompanying accommodation letter sent to his parents from Commander J. B. Mueller, dated January 30, 1979. The handwritten note from Commander J.B. Mueller states:

"This is a particularly significant achievement for Paul [Craig goes by his middle name] since submarine qualification normally takes two patrols and your son did it in less than one. You should be very proud of him.")

Any particular lessons that stick out from your time in service?

It taught me a lot about camaraderie and being with a team because we never went anywhere, especially overseas, without a group. You just didn’t go out alone.

So that and, of course, all the experiences of doing my job. It gave you a different perspective of the world. I always thought Indiana was just a terrible place. The more I traveled around the country and the world, I realized how great it is here. It's just one of the best states there is. I've been to a lot of them and it changed my mind, changed my opinion of the world and our country, for sure.

What was the change in your opinion of the world?

Well, how bad everybody else has it, especially other countries. You go to other countries and there were a lot of poor, a little rich, and very few middle class. And if you don’t travel overseas, you don’t know that.

Hopefully our country isn't heading that way. It seems to be getting that way, to where there are less and less middle class. I'm hoping now things change a little. I'm really pleased with our new president and I think that’s gonna change our country in a good way. I know he's definitely for military and I support him.

Looking back, what are your thoughts about serving now?

You know there were a few times I almost rejoined. And by the time I really thought I might do that, I was too old. And I would probably still do it now, if they'd let me.

What's that pull for you like? Why do you feel compelled to go back at times?

They take care of their own, for sure.

It wasn’t really the best pay; that's the biggest reason I probably got out. But that and being away from your family so much. I know the Navy has one of the highest divorce rates just because you're gone. That was probably the biggest reason that I got out.

What was your path after exiting military service to your current position at Klipsch?

I looked around for a while and I took a job installing close-circuit TV cameras for a local company. And when I wasn’t doing that, they put me on the bench to help the techs and realized I was better than some of the techs they had. So they fired them and made me tech.

Eventually, I became service manager there and I -- unfortunately, the first four companies I worked for went out of business after about five years, it seemed like, on the dot. Otherwise, I'd still probably been at the first one. I was a service manager fixing electronics ever since then. My last job I was at, fixing pro audio gear for 18 years; the last economic turndown they went out of business.

Fortunately, I landed here at Klipsch and this has been the best job I've ever had. The people are great, the company is great. I'm a big gear-head, so it's right where I want to be. I'm doing exactly what I like. Life couldn’t be better.

Did you have an interest in tech even in your younger years or was it something that just kind of developed over time with tinkering?

Yeah, that's what really drove me to join. I always wanted to play music and I learned enough to know that I didn’t have the natural ability. One of my best friends, I taught him everything I knew on a guitar in a week, that took me a year to learn. And that was just natural for him. He didn’t have to think about it, he didn't have to learn it. And that really discouraged me because that’s what I wanted.

And so I decided to get on the other side of music and get into electronics so I could be a recording engineer. That's why I studied electronics and thought when I got out that’s what I'd do. Of course, I never did until -- well, it's been a bit longer than that. I finally joined a band and mixed for them for five years, every weekend, which is very hard to do when you have a 40 hour workweek. And I did that for five years with them and really got to fulfill that part of what I wanted to do.

What was the name of the band?

It was a local band, we did cover songs, called The Bunny Brothers. The guitar player and the drummer's last name is "Bunny" and they're brothers.

So they did all the classic rock that I grew up with and they were great. They played everything I loved. You know I really didn’t do it for the money. I did it for the camaraderie and the music. But five years of it, you know eventually it starts to become a job and takes a toll on you, for sure.

That's awesome that you felt a desire to pursue a passion, filled that void, and crossed it off the bucket list.

Yeah, it is. It really was.

What's your current position at Klipsch and how do you describe it to a layman?

I'm an engineering technician. I help the electronic engineers with whatever they need. I do, mainly, a lot of testing, I do a little building of prototypes, and I put in some input on how things go, and I get a lot of gear.

What specifically are you working on gear-wise?

We do, mainly, all home stereo equipment, home theater equipment. And anything with electronics in it, it comes through me.

The leading technology right now we're doing is WiSA Technology. And it's wireless speakers. We can do up to a 7.2, complete wireless. It's basically its own network and we have a very small hub; it takes the place of your receiver. And eventually, if the technology goes the right way, it'll be built into TV's and you won't need a receiver at all.

And we're doing Play-Fi; it's another technology we're using. And we have a whole series of speakers, sound bars, little Bluetooth tabletops, and more room speakers. And then you can access them all together or individually, all through your phone. It's pretty cool.

("The Three" is Klipsch's tabletop stereo that uses Play-Fi technology. It can be controlled via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or even set up as a PC speaker through USB).

So you could, in theory, run them through the house and listen to music while you're cooking or doing tasks in another room?

Yeah, you set 'em everywhere. Just connect them to your router and pull up the app. It's called Klipsch Stream. And you pull up the Klipsch Stream app and they list all of the different rooms and you can adjust the volume separately or you can make pairs or groups or however you want.

Audio listening preferences seem to be fairly subjective. As a professional, how do you determine what's missing in audio quality?

It is a preference, for sure. The one thing that sets us apart from the rest of the speaker manufacturers is that we use a horn loaded high frequency driver, which projects a little more because of the horn. And that's what we're really known for, besides efficiency.

"And we’ve done this for 70 years, still making Klipschhorns, which we still sell. They’re 70 years old and they still sound as phenomenal as they did 70 years ago. It’s amazing when you listen to one."

Our facility is pretty impressive. We have an anechoic sound chamber. That's pretty cool to see. It's a whole room set on springs, totally isolated and quiet. And you go in there, it's dead quiet. You’ve never experienced anything like it. A lot of people don’t like it when they get in there.

It's eerie, huh?

It freaks them out. We measure our speakers in there so there's no outside stuff.

(Craig in front of the anechoic sound chamber walls at Klipsch Headquarters in Indianapolis. An anechoic chamber is an echo-free sound room designed to absorb reflections of sound or electromagnetic waves.)

What is the next big hurdle that we need to overcome in the audio space? It seems like wireless audio is on the rise.

Yeah, I really think that’s definitely the future with most anything right now. Simplicity. People don’t want to have to mess with it. They want to turn it on and it works. And if they gotta go figuring stuff out --

And run cords everywhere. It's maddening.

It can get really complicated to set up a home theater. I don’t know how an everyday person can do some of it, actually, to get the optimum. And then, of course, that’s why they have companies install it for you. But our Wi-Fi system is pretty simple to set up.

Could it get to a point where even concerts would use wireless technology or do you lose too much fidelity when using enormous speakers?

No, definitely headed that way as well.

So no big cords from the sound booth directly down to them and stuff like that?

Yeah, you know live, I mean everybody is mixing with an iPad now, walking around the room. And then they're using their phones to adjust the monitors onstage for each individual. So I do that too.

Looking at your time in service, do you feel like it's helped or hindered you in the job market?

Yeah, I believe it helps, for sure. Of course, without the training I wouldn’t be here at all. But yeah, it's been a pretty positive being in the military. Everybody that I've worked with looks up to me for that.

Any moments that come to mind where your position or career significantly changed?

Not really, other than just being able to have this job was definitely - you know a lot of repairing stuff for 30 years, it gets old fixing stuff daily. I kind of got burned out on repair because everybody wanted it now and everybody's problem was my problem. So 30-some years of that, it was starting to get old.

So this job, I'm not having to repair stuff every day and having people ask me, "Is it done yet?" It's way more comfortable and laid back than that pressure I had before of trying to get everything done.

You're idea-generating in terms of working on prototypes and trying to fill gaps rather than, here's another broken speaker, fix it again, here's another broken speaker, et cetera?

Yeah, exactly. You got 40 people wanting their stuff right now. And now I have to satisfy a few people, not 50 people.

We always hear about burnout in certain positions. Is it plausible to have work/life balance in your field? And if so, how do you manage it?

Yeah, you gotta have those breaks, for sure. Three weeks of vacation a year, that's not enough to do it. So you need to pace yourself and try and find other interests and other things to do besides work.

But this job is definitely not like that. I've never not wanted to get up and come to work. Because I have, especially in some of my past jobs, even though I enjoyed it, something -- you know after a while you just -- it's work. And if you don't like it, you really need to do something else.

Military.com has a lot of active duty and veteran readers that may want to someday work in your field. To get to where you're at today, what do you feel is the optimum path to travel?

You gotta go to school, you gotta go to trade school, or you gotta get a degree in engineering. I never got the degree in engineering; it was a minimal electronics degree, actually. But still, I pursued it and I got what I wanted. I think it's all in your attitude and your pursuit of happiness.

Do you have any advice for people just starting out?

You know attitude is probably the biggest. You can look at anything and pick out a thousand negative things about it or you can pick out a thousand positive things about it. It's how you look at it. And if you want to make it hell, you can. If you want to make it heaven, you can. And it's totally in how you look at everything. You know it's not what you don’t have; it's what you have.

What's next for you at Klipsch?

Well, I'm getting pretty old now and I'm lucky to have a position that -- you know I was lucky they hired me even at the age I started, so I'm hoping to stay here until they kick me out. And I'm perfectly satisfied, my life is good, and I wouldn’t probably change anything, unless I hit the lottery.

(Craig in San Diego, 1976).

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