The Plectron Corporation was formed in 1955 in Overton, Nebraska. The founders were Keith H. Wycoff and Arlyn Collins. The name Plectron was a combination of the words Plastics and electronics. Mr. Wycoff had a patent on a strainer for baby nursing bottle nipples, that prevented clogging, and that was one of the Plastic products. They also manufactured veterinary electronic medical equipment. They were contacted by a small Fire Dept. in Nebraska about manufacturing an economical tone activated home alerting receiver. Motorola had an alerting receiver that used reeds for decoding but it was priced at around $200.00 (1950 dollars). Plectron designed an inexpensive radio for fire alerting and it was called the FYRCALL. It was priced at $49.95 and was a single tone activated unit. This is the original Plectron and is housed in a maroon plastic case with all of the controls in the back. The cabinet was supplied by Plastic Products (Los Angeles, CA) and was a cabinet made to be used for home AM radios and adapted for the FYRCALL. The Fyrcall was an AC/DC set and it was the only non-transformer powered radio made by Plectron. The encoder for use with the Fyrcall was manually timed. Backup encoders for alerting were tuning forks which were struck and held in front of the microphone. The tuning fork was also used for calibrating the tone frequency of the encoders.
Mr. Wycoff and Mr. Collins parted as co-owners of Plectron about 1961 and Mr. Wycoff left to open Reach Electronics in nearby Lexington, Nebraska. It became a very successful company and it is still operating in Lexington under the name Veetronics.
Under the leadership of Mr. Collins, Plectron developed new radios which were introduced in about 1960. The name FYRCALL was dropped because of some copyright conflicts. The new radios were in small metal cabinets and were transformer powered.
They carried model numbers such as 25 etc. Plectron had a very extensive metal shop and most all of the housings were made at Plectron for the life of the Company.
The next series (about 1963) were still tube type radios and were designated the R---- series. These radios were in a longer more rectangular cabinet partially for styling and partially to distribute the heat from the tubes over a larger area for better cooling. They were designated Patrol (non-tone continuous monitor), Sentry (tone activated only), and Chief (tone activated or continuous monitor by the operation of a selector switch).
In 1964 Plectron introduced the famous P1 series all transistor receiver. The design was somewhat unique with modular construction and performance features that were not available on the tube radios. They were more expensive at around $145.00 while the tube radios were still about $110.00 so both tube and transistor models stayed in the product line for some time. The P1 series with various updates was maintained in the line until the 8000 series was introduced (about 1983). The Plectron II (black and white unit) was developed in 1967 to make a less expensive transistor receiver available. It is basically a P1 repackaged in a less expensive cabinet with fewer options and was priced at about $120.00.
On February 24, 1967 Mr. Arlyn Collins (President and Manager) and J. Dick Mayberry (National Sales Manager) were killed when the Company airplane crashed in the vicinity of Kirksville, MO. This could have been the end of Plectron but Plectron selected Robert Creighton as President and Manager and many other capable people were promoted to continue the success and growth of Plectron.
In 1968 the Plectron 500 series was introduced. This was a low cost answer to Plectron competition ($109.50). The Plectron II was discontinued at about the same time. The 500 series had a very sensitive receiver and was a winner for Plectron. It had most of the features of the P1 and was much less expensive.
In 1971 the Plectron 700 series was introduced and met with immediate success (price $129.50). It was a full featured radio with nice styling, very good audio, excellent receiver sensitivity, and most of the features available on the P1 series. The P-500, P-700, and P1 all remained in the line for a good, better, best selection. In 1982 the Sentinel series was introduced as a low cost version of the 700 with a Plastic case. It was somewhat lower in price than the 700 and with the exception of the case is identical to the 700. For a Plectron collector this is probably the rarest Plectron as it was only produced for a little over a year.
In about 1978 the Plectron Pager+ was introduced. It was a well designed product with a lot of features but it was Plectrons first venture into a field where others were dominant. Plectron was the king of home alerting and customers expected the Pager+ to work as well as the home receivers and of course pagers never work that well. It cost a lot of money to develop and was never a successful product for Plectron.
In 1980 Thomas Woodson became President of Plectron and worked diligently to resolve Pager problems. In 1983 the entire home alerting line was changed to just one product which was the Plectron 8000 series. Home alerting was becoming a very secondary market to pagers with fewer sales for Plectron.
In about 1985 Plectron was sold to Butler National Corporation in Lenexa, Kansas and the manufacturing facility was moved to Kansas. Mr. Woodson continued to operate Woodson Electronics from the Plectron Building in Overton, Nebraska. Woodson Electronics serviced the older Plectron products. In about 1987 Butler National contracted with Woodson Electronics to build the model 8000 at the Overton, NE location. Those 8000 units built in Overton by Woodson are identified by a W after the serial number as well as a front label that says Plectron by WEI.
Woodson later discontinued the 8000 and began manufacturing the R-900 series which was a programmable radio. In 1994 Woodson moved his operation to Imboden, Arkansas. The R-900 and decoders were sold to Federal Signal which was essentially the end of the Plectron Company. Some of the Plectron/Woodson employees went to work for Reach (Veetronics) in Lexington, NE.
I am often asked why Plectron went out of business. There were several factors that I believe caused the ultimate failure of Plectron. The Plectron pager should have been made years earlier as the Fire Departments were requesting a Pager and the market was shifting from home alerting to pager alerting. When the Pager+ did arrive on the market people who were used to Plectron home receivers expected more of the pager than any pager could deliver. Another factor in the demise of Plectron was that there was NO planned obsolesce in the Plectron products. They were built for great performance and for long life. Evidence of this fact is the numbers of Plectron alerting receivers still in service and performing as well as when they were new.
What were the factors that allowed Plectron to dominate the home alerting field for so long? First was the dedication to building the best product possible at a reasonable price. Second was the service available from the factory on the products. Third was the quality of the people at Plectron. Everyone that I worked with, as a dealer, was dedicated to making certain that my needs and my customer’s needs were met.