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50 Millionth RCA Set Celebrated

October 18, 1990

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) _ Thomson Consumer Electronics celebrated production of the 50 millionth RCA color television set Thursday by proclaiming its American roots and heralding the company’s big Bloomington assembly plant as ″the color TV capital of the world.″

Bernard Isautier, the new chairman of French-owned Thomson, also challenged the workers at the world’s largest television assembly operation to meet the challenges of global competition and provide the advanced, high-tech products expected to revolutionize the consumer television market in the coming decade.

″To some extent, today’s celebration is like pinning a medal on a battle- scarred soldier for outstanding service, then sending him right back to the front line because the war is still going on,″ said Isautier, who became chairman of Thomson on Oct. 1.

In an elaborate ceremony, the 50 millionth TV, a white, 27-inch table model, emerged amid fog from inside a large globe that separated at the equator, to the music of ″God Bless the U.S.A.″

There was rousing applause from Thomson employees and dignitaries including Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight and Lt. Gov. Frank O’Bannon, head of Indiana’s commerce efforts.

RCA made its first mass-produced color television at the same Bloomington plant on March 17, 1954. That 15-inch, open-faced console listed then for $1,000, nearly the same price as the $1,099 set that was a model for the commemorative TV receiver. The new one, however, also has color picture-in- picture, Surround Sound, on-screen graphic equalizer and other advanced features.

Plant manager Gib Apple said the Bloomington plant this year will produce 3.2 million RCA and General Electric television sets, or about 15,500 per day.

About 11,000 units, or 75 percent of production capacity, come off three automated lines that represent a $30 million investment since 1986. The improvements include 37 robots that align picture tubes within cabinets, provide lifting and perform other functions.

The automation has allowed one assembly line to boost production of 20-inch TV sets from 1,050 per eight-hour shift to 1,720, a 64 percent improvement in efficiency, company officials said.

However, Thomson announced in August it would move production of the high- volume but low-end 20-inch sets to Mexico next year, eliminating 175 jobs in Bloomington. This plant will concentrate on the wider-screen and more advanced models that represent the greatest growth area in the U.S. market, said Joseph Clayton, vice president of Thomson’s American television operations.

″We’re making the investment to insure that Bloomington is a world-class manufacturing facility, second to none in the world,″ Clayton said.

He dismissed those who would say Japanese and Korean competitors have made the Far East the television production center of the world. ″The color TV capital of the world was, is and will continue to be Bloomington, Indiana.″

Clayton said although French-owned Thomson bought RCA-GE in 1987, its roots are American, dating to Elihu Thomson, a Philadelphia schoolteacher who founded the company in the 1880s and merged it with Edison Electric to form GE. A French consortium acquired his patents and took on the Thomson name before the turn of the century, Clayton said.

″Our roots are all-American,″ he said, striking a theme that plays well in the industrial Midwest, which has felt the effects and job losses of foreign erosion of U.S. market share in various industries.

RCA still leads the American television market with about a 16 percent share, and GE contributes another 6 percent.

Isautier, in his remarks, challenged the Bloomington workers to maintain Thomson’s primacy in the face of increasing global competition.

Bloomington’s opportunity and future, Isautier said, are ″in advanced products and high technology.... Let’s call it graduating from experience to expertise.″

Clarence Young, international representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents 900 workers at Bloomington, said they would meet Isautier’s challenge.

″It’s a survival type of thing,″ Young said, for a plant that once was endangered. ″We’re very proud.″

Thomson employs 1,600 workers at Bloomington, 2,000 at its U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis and 2,000 at a picture tube plant in Marion, Ind.

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