Phil Price's first job in the entertainment industry was as chief electrician working a Strand lighting Grand Master desk at the Palace Theatre in Essex. "I just caught the bug of wanting to be in the technical side of the entertainment industry," says the RCF UK director of sales.
Price went on from the Westcliff venue to a 100V valve amp maker called Panphonic, then an audio transformer specialist named Drake Transformers (customers included Marshall and Millbank) before forming audio sales operation Audilec with two partners in 1979.
As well as giving Paul Maher a job selling Audio-Technica installation microphones (Maher would go on to run the UK A-T operation), and becoming a major outlet for TOA products, Audilec began selling RCF devices in 1987, so beginning Price's relationship - and practically a synonymity - with the Italian company which has endured for 22 years.
Tell me about the RCF UK operation
"Currently it's a very interesting model. We were faced with the problem of getting our product to market with the least expense margin between factory and the dealer/Integrator. In the past we would have used separate warehousing in the key territories - the UK, Germany, France etc- but it's not just the cost factor, it's the logistical nightmares of having the wrong inventory in the wrong places. We operate with a large Warehouse Operation based in Reggio Emilia Italy. In the UK we are essentially a sales and service office. Our customers place their orders through the UK office, the goods ship directly from Italy, where all the paperwork is done as well, and buyers are billed in sterling. We're not a separate company, we are a sales office with a major emphasis on service and customer support, and that is the model we operate in the UK, in Germany, in France, and just recently in Spain.
"There are four of us in the UK - I run the company but my day-to-day is also spent in the Commercial Audio market, which is, if you like, my long suit. Dean Davoile looks after sales of the ART series, 4PRO series, products that go primarily into the MI market place and pro-audio resellers; Greg Oliver helps with system design, quotations and offers for dealers - Greg also offers an 'onsite' product demonstration service - especially for our larger format Speaker Systems. Then our technical manager Mick Williams who also has a long history with the company, works in support of our commercial design, system building of racks, and so on, but is also responsible for running our service and repair operation."
How did you first encounter RCF?
"While at Audilec in 1987, we were looking at the transducer business, the sale of individual components was quite buoyant at the time, there was still a steady market for DIY box builders, I thought we could grow some significant business with RCF, and that was borne true. Then in 1990 the president of RCF at the time, Dr. Bozzoli, identified that, in the long term, we needed to move into complete speaker and system manufacture. Bear in mind that we were already producing PA commercial electronics - that business went back to the 1950s for RCF, but the commercial product was very Italio-centric, and wasn't designed for export. So a plan was put together to manufacture complete speaker systems. It was felt that the UK was such a significant factor, we needed a direct UK subsidiary. I formed that in 1990; then George Krampera was recruited to start the design of complete speaker boxes, his first contributions were the RCF Monitor series of compact fixed installation boxes, for the bar and AV markets.
So you came into RCF early, then there was this excursion in 2002.
"In 1998 RCF was acquired by Mackie, in 2001, Krampera and Marcelo Vercelli wanted to develop their concepts of high power active systems, they left to form KV2, while myself and [ex-Mackie] Andy Austin-Brown started the European operations. My role really was as a consultant. Then literally, when the opportunity arose - that is, the management buyout in 2004 - I rejoined RCF.
Do you think it was inevitable that you would come back?
"I always believed that, whatever was occurring, RCF would comeback stronger than before. So the answer is yes!"
Did you never want to be involved in something a little more rock'n'roll?
"Yes I did, and I always wanted to see RCF move more in that direction, especially with the heritage we had in supplying transducers to brands that were firmly in that market. Those were discussions we had with the R&D team in the mid-90s. So for me now to have the TT line, it might have taken ten years to achieve that but it's very satisfying to see it."
It's a competitive market for line arrays - why bother?
"A lot of people probably questioned our logic but we became very successful in owning our own electronics and transducer technology, and developing and selling very successfully smaller active systems. You have to remember the original ART series, aimed at the MI/Pro goes back to 95-96, and with the development that occurred in RCF with some of the key Mackie products, we always though t we could always bring that to larger format theatre and touring systems. So to see that come to fruition for me was really quite exciting. You mention that fierce competitive nature of the market. Yes it is, but we always thought we had something that could be put equally alongside some of the key players in that market. We now have had successes worldwide with the TTL33compact line array. The other boxes in the line, while not in the mainstream rock'n'roll sector, have given us credibility : the small TT08 and TT22 are extremely accurate in sound and voice reinforcement, and we are almost becoming the alternative solution theatre system in small compact products. The TTL33, whilst we are not selling to the main rock'n'roll touring PA companies, we are doing sales to rental houses doing corporate PA work and local theatre productions; the scalability of our products has attracted them to our systems.
"There are many advantages to our TT system, in terms of control and operation, and in terms of protection and power consumption, but providing the ultimate performance into the various devices. Owning our own Transducer and Electronics technology allows us to correctly tailor each individual design"
How much is still a transducer business?
"It's still significant but whereas 10 -15 years ago it would have been 50-60% of the business, it's now around 10-15%. We've still maintained the same level of units sold, it's just that the rest of RCF has got bigger! In recent months we've been sharing our innovative products to competitors because it offers new economies of scale. This is why, for example, we have formed 'Digipro', which is offering our digital active amplifier technology to other suppliers."
As a man who has been around the installation business for so many years, what sort of challenges do you find arising from that part of the world?
"The challenges that every manufacturing right now is that more and more customers are looking for complete solutions, and this is one of the things we have always been able to achieve with RCF. Not every manufacturer can make every single item - but the key elements are the power amplification and the speaker chain, because that is wher e the hardest work is being done, in terms of heat dissipation and so on. And RCF has strong experience and R&D in both these fields. Five or ten years ago we did well because we were able to make one or two very strong speakers - such as the Monitor 5, the Monitor 8, which were are flagships in the installation market. Now the emphasis has changed. The client s and the installers want to come to the manufacturer for a complete solution. Even though we don't make a routing matrix currently, we can recommend one that will work well with our products. This type of philosophy is becoming more and more critical for RCF and this is how we will be bringing the company forward."
What's the most impressive installation you've been involved in?
"In terms of sound quality, I would say Loaf, which was a bar that we did in the '90s, in railway arches in Manchester. The bar market was very important for us in the '90s, we became one of the leading three suppliers [with Bose and Tannoy in particular]. In recent times, we've been involved in a famous royal church, which I won't name, with new high-intelligibility column designs. It was fantastic to be involved with that.
"The emphasis has moved to installations in performing arts and theatre markets, this is happened through the relationships we have with certain key solutions providers, plus the products we have developed in that sector; for instance we have the Acustica line which are installation-specific products designed to solve particular issues, and that has proved to be a growth area in theatre, education, the learning academies around the country."
And what's your best box?
"The TT08A. In terms of sonic accuracy, Originally I would have said the Monitor 8 - for years, that was almost studio monitor quality. But the active TT08 - it's just stunning!"
Frank Loyko has just joined RCF US from Digidesign (and before that from Mackie) - what's the significance of his move?
"He brings to the table huge experience in all areas of the professional market: touring, fixed installation, contacts he has with key rental companies,. Collectively with his knowledge, combining with our support in the UK - because most references come from the UK or US market - we see this as a pivotal period in the growth of the whole TT+ and fixed installation markets."