Alcorn McBride, Inc., the leading manufacturer of show control, audio and video equipment for the theme-park industry, is celebrating its 25th anniversary, an important milestone for a technology company serving the world's top theme parks, museums and systems integrators. To mark the occasion the company has launched an improved website (www.alcorn.com) with easier navigation and more offerings, including the latest free software downloads and firmware upgrades for customers.
Founded in 1986 by CEO Steve Alcorn who maintains a hands-on leadership role in the company, Alcorn McBride has thrived thanks to innovative product design, longevity among its staff members and unparalleled customer service.
The company is well-known for designing equipment in four areas: audio players, including the flagship Digital Binloop multi-channel audio reproducer; video players, including a line of compact Digital Video machines and the ultimate multi-track video player, Digital Binloop HD; lighting control with the LightCue line of playback solutions and the DMX Machine scripted show controller; and show control featuring a dedicated line of versatile, frame-accurate show controllers to accommodate shows of all sizes.
"Owning a technology company for 25 years keeps you on your toes," says Alcorn. "Every year we get better at designing products, documenting them, packaging them and supporting them. The products we design today are infinitely more powerful and complex than the products of 25 years ago. We're building equipment that helps to entertain and inform millions of people - they may not know us, but it's gratifying to be part of their experience at theme parks and museums worldwide."
Alcorn got into the industry by accident back in the early 1980s. His wife, Linda, (his high school sweetheart) was always "passionate about Disney" and became an Imagineer after her college graduation, signing on as an electronic project engineer in charge of 10 projects at Epcot, then under construction in Orlando. Alcorn became an Epcot consultant himself and, among his tasks, was helping design the control system for Epcot's American Adventure, "probably the most complex theme-park attraction ever done," he reports.
"My passion was always product design. At Epcot I learned about theme parks while doing what I fundamentally wanted to do: design a bunch of products from scratch. Equipment in theme parks is fairly specialized. We needed equipment that was rugged and well suited to control theme-park environments; we needed to create elements that pulled things together and synchronized them. At Epcot we were inventing products on a one-by-one basis."
After Epcot opened, Alcorn, whose first love had been the music business, did a stint as COO of Linn Electronics, inventor of the digital drum machine. But it was an era when American-made electronic instruments were being usurped by products from overseas, and Linn folded.
Alcorn decided to combine his penchant for product design and his knowledge of theme parks to launch Alcorn McBride in Westlake Village, California. By providing off-the-shelf audio and video players, lighting controllers and show controllers, Alcorn felt he would be responding to the needs he identified at Epcot.
"We concentrated on equipment in four areas: audio, video, lighting and show control. Each was designed to replace what, at Epcot, had been individually engineered from scratch or borrowed from another industry," he says. "What was different about our equipment was that it had no moving parts. It was designed to be installed and ignored for 20 years. We still have equipment out there that's been running for two decades without a power cycle or a reset, something you'd never achieve with a PC."
Alcorn McBride, which was initially staffed with former Imagineers, took over larger offices in Glendale, California where it focused even more on the theme-park business. But Alcorn had always wanted to return to Florida, so he moved the company to Orlando, its location since 1989. "From the facilities we own in Orlando we focus on our strengths: engineering design, customer support, marketing and sales."
Alcorn points out that "because our engineers go out in the field to support our integrator customers and are familiar with those customers' working environment,s operational information funnels back to us. I've often used a piece of equipment and felt its the designer never had to use it. But that doesn't happen here. We understand how our products will be used; that helps us design products to satisfy the needs of our customers."
Although many of Alcorn McBride's products remain in active service that doesn't mean equipment improvements are at a standstill. "The latest software downloads and firmware updates are available free on our website - they will turn a 15-year-old product into a new one," says Alcorn.
"Our new designs are driven by improvements in technology. Our first HD video player was out 10 years ago, long before the Blu-ray player. We have now migrated all our HD players to Flash memory and are developing higher and higher resolution products to accommodate theme parks' 4K - and above - projection."
Alcorn McBride's rugged, reliable and flexible products are backed up by extraordinary customer service. "A lot of companies pay lip service to that concept, but we're always there for our customers," Alcorn says. "It's a rare company that you can call and actually get to speak to the person who designed the product."
The company has taken advantage of its 25th anniversary to improve its website (www.alcorn.com). It retained the things clients like most, introduced more landing pages for visitors discovering Alcorn McBride for the first time, added resource pages and simplified navigation.
The new website offers products by category and spotlights new equipment; it outlines applications by market with popular case studies illustrating each market segment. Resources include a library of product cutsheets, user guides, white papers, architectural specs and mechanical drawings. Customers seeking support can get free software downloads, free firmware updates and watch training videos. Quick links on the easy-to-read home page provide direct access to the information users need.
Alcorn, who has authored two theme park industry books, "Building a Better Mouse" about his Epcot experience, and "Theme Park Design." He also teaches an online theme-park design workshop at www.imagineeringclass.com. He reflects on what it's been like to head Alcorn McBride for 25 years. "It's amazing. You find something you like to do, then bring in other people with the same goal, create an environment for everyone to flourish in, and build products designed to get the job done and last. Customers approach us knowing they're going to get something good, something that will pass the test of time. It's very gratifying."
About Alcorn McBride:
Founded in 1986, Alcorn McBride is the leading manufacturer of show control, audio and video equipment for the themed entertainment industry, and a rapidly growing provider of audio and video systems for retail environments and transportation applications. Staffed by some of the industry's best engineers and backed by outstanding customer support, the company has demonstrated great agility in bringing new designs to market. A hallmark of Alcorn McBride products is their durable, zero maintenance design. The company's products provide consistent, reliable operation for audio and video playback applications worldwide. For more information, visit www.alcorn.com.
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