All That's Trucking

It All Started With A Quest for a Better Two-Way Radio

October 6, 2010

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Did you know the guy who broke Ma Bell's monopoly did it because he was trying to sell truckers a two-way radio system that could give them uninterrupted contact with their headquarters?
Jack Goeken is perhaps most famous for helping to break up
Jack Goeken is perhaps most famous for helping to break up


John Goeken died recently, and it was in perusing an obituary of the prolific telecommunications entrepreneur that I learned this little tidbit.

In 1974, he filed an antitrust suit that challenged AT&T's monopoly on the long-distance telephone market. It was a move that eventually led to the breakup of "Ma Bell."

Goeken founded companies such as MCI and Airfone Inc. "He sought to make communication possible anywhere people go - an idea that revolutionized the telecommunications industry," according to the LA Times.

He got his start selling and repairing two-way radios. After hearing truck driver customers complain that two-way radio channel capacity and range left something to be desired, Goeken envisioned a microwave communications system that could provide improved transmission range.

Goeken started Microwave Communications Inc. - the original name of MCI - in 1963, trying to increase sales at his two-way radio business in Joliet, Ill. He figured he could sell more two-way radios to truckers traveling between Chicago and St. Louis on U.S. 66 if he could build microwave towers along the route to extend the radios' range.

But AT&T wasn't wild about the idea, to put it mildly. It, along with four other communications companies, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to stop MCI from competing with them. Goeken fought back.

It wasn't an easy fight. As the Times details it:

"Goeken and his four partners put up a total of $3,000 to cover legal fees, but the money was quickly exhausted. One by one, his partners dropped out, leaving Goeken to fill the David role in the battle against the telecom Goliaths. As the legal fight dragged on through the 1960s, Goeken was so broke that he used tape to keep the soles of his shoes from flapping loose."

The lawsuit eventually led to the dismantling of AT&T's monopoly, allowing MCI to become a legitimate competitor in the long-distance telecommunications market. By the time of the actual breakup, however, Goeken was on to other pursuits.

He went on to found Airfone (he later sold it to GTE), which allowed airline customers to place calls n flight. Then he founded InFlight Phone Corp. to compete with GTE's monopoly in the business. Along the way he's designed a computer network for florists (the FTD Mercury Network), and a way to provide streamlined medical information storage and forwarding services.

It's no wonder Business Week named Mr. Goeken "the phone world's most prolific inventor."

One of his latest projects was cutting-edge PolyBrite LED lighting systems. You may see PolyBrite's Borealis LED lamps lighting a warehouse, street or parking lot.

By all accounts, Goeken was thrilled by the rapid evolution of technology.

"As technology advances, things become possible that you couldn't do a short while ago," Goeken told Computerworld magazine in 1994. "I just wish you had a thousand lives to live because you could do so much."

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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

Editor in Chief

Truck journalist 21 years, joined us in 1998. Plans and coordinates editorial, specializes in maintenance, drivers and fleet operations.

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