John Herbert Orr

Born: Aug. 19, 1911 Opelika, AL

Died: May 6, 1984

He established and managed one of the first radio stations in Alabama, WJHO in Opelika. During World War II he became one of a team who uncovered the secrets of an amazing new recording medium developed by the Germans - magnetic recording tape. Recognizing its potential, Mr. Orr returned to the States after the war and began his own experiments in tape production. Out of his pioneer endeavors in this field came Irish Tape and ORRadio Industries - one of the first companies to produce magnetic tape in the United States. This discovery revolutionized the audio and video recording process. The Pioneer Award for The Alabama Music Hall of Fame was named in his honor.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame



John Herbert Orr (August 19, 1911 – May 6, 1984) was an Alabama entrepreneur who formed Orradio Industries, Inc., a high-technology firm that made magnetic recording tape. In 1945, Orr was among the U.S. Army Intelligence officials who investigated this technology, which was originally developed in Germany during the 1930s. Orr's early knowledge allowed him to establish Orradio in 1949. When, after some uncertainty, tape became the standard medium for magnetic recorders, and as other uses such as data storage and videotape appeared, Orradio's sales expanded rapidly in the late 1950s. Orradio produced the first commercially available audio tape, video tape, and computer tape in the world. The company was purchased by a larger competitor, the Ampex Corporation, in 1959 when Ampex decided it was cheaper to own the plant than to keep buying all their tape.

Mr. Orr then founded OrrTronics, which developed the lubricated tape used in closed loop tape systems. The system, called the "Orrtronic Tapette", was produced in versions for home, commercial, and automotive use, and was offered as a prize on television game shows. Evolving from a single track mono design (which stayed in production as the radio station "cart") through two-track mono and stereo versions, the rights were sold to Bill Lear, who continued development into the well known 4-track and 8-track cartridges of the late sixties.

Orrtronic was then closed and Mr. Orr formed Orrox Corporation, which specialized in hard disc drive controllers, refurbishing of helical scan video tape recorders, and video tape editing systems for TV broadcasters and post-production houses. The latter product, CMX Systems, was for many years the preferred editing system for 80% of all television programming originating on videotape.

According to one story, in 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to record a message to the German people, which he did using captured German tape. However, the tape had not been completely erased, and Hitler's voice, so the story goes, could be heard intermittently along with that of Eisenhower. Eisenhower ordered that no more captured tape could be used, and ordered Major John Herbert Orr to use captured German scientists to set up an American tape manufacturing facility. Paper tape was the medium in use at the time, but the German engineers had been experimenting with a plastic based tape; they provided Major Orr with the data on this and it became the basis of the modern audio and video recording industry.

Mr. Orr retired from Orrox in 1976 and founded Orr Proprietorship, which transcribed recorded media, from early cylinder recordings to 1960's tape recordings, onto modern tape for preservation.

John Herbert Orr suffered a heart attack while on a Sunday afternoon drive with his sister.

In 2005, a segment in the PBS series History Detectives (Car Tape Deck, Season 3, Episode 6) featured Orr and his contribution to the early magnetic tape industry.

The call letters of defunct radio station WJHO, located in Opelika, Alabama (where Ampex had a large facility), refer to John Herbert Orr, who founded and managed the station. (Mr. Orr steadfastly denied this, claiming the letters stood for "Joy Has Opportunity".)
When the German engineers gave Mt. Orr their studies on plastic tape, the only place in Europe manufacturing the material was a factory making ladies imitation leather purses.
At one point Orrtronics was planning a merger with Cousino Industries in Ohio, with Orrtronics doing the R&D and Cousino the manufacturing. After several days of negotiating and planning, Mr. Orr returned to Alabama with the initial agreements and the planned new corporate logo which combined the two company names - "CousinOrr". His secretary took one look and remarked, "That says Cousin Orr". Back to the drawing board.
See also: Jack Mullin - Another American magnetic tape pioneer.
See also: Richard H. Ranger - Another American magnetic tape pioneer.


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