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Telos Founder Steve Church Dies At 57


Colleagues and friends are mourning the passing of Steve Church, engineer, entrepreneur, talk show host, and founder of Telos Systems and the Telos Alliance, a coalition of broadcast technology companies. Over the past 30 years, Church created many of the products that ushered broadcasting into the digital age. Radio Ink magazine Publisher Eric Rhoads said, "Steve was one of the brightest, most innovative people I've ever known. His ideas were revolutionary and changed the radio industry. His passing is a big loss for our industry."

Steve was born in San Diego, California, and began his broadcast engineering career in 1975 at WFMK in Lansing, Michigan. He later worked at W4 (WWWW) in Detroit before moving to Indianapolis, Indiana, to become chief engineer at WFBQ/WNDE. Church’s first innovation transformed the sound of radio talk shows. Having hosted such shows in addition to his engineering duties, he was frustrated by the poor sound delivered by the analog telephone adapters then in use, which were plagued by sidetone distortion. The problem was thought to be unsolvable even by Bell Labs engineers, but by applying DSP adaptive filtering, Church solved the problem and was able to eliminate sidetone distortion. This became the basis for his first product, the Telos 10 telephone hybrid, and Telos Systems was launched in 1985 as a part-time project.

Church later moved to Cleveland to become chief engineer of WMMS/WHK, still building his company in his spare time. Sales of the Telos 10 telephone hybrid increased, to the point that Church decided to quit his day job and commit to his company full-time. The rest, as they say, is history.

Church’s second breakthrough changed the way radio stations do remote broadcasts. What was once an expensive, complex, and time-consuming undertaking with long-distance telephone lines or satellite links, was simplified when Church combined then-new MP3 audio coding with ISDN technology. The result was the Telos Zephyr, which enabled stations to set up and transmit broadcast quality point-to-point digital audio in a matter of seconds. Zephyr has since become the most successful digital broadcast audio product of all time.

Next, Church applied packet switching and Ethernet technology to the routing of audio signals around the broadcast plant. The result was Livewire IP-Audio, which employs a linear audio-over-IP method. This technology has fundamentally altered broadcast studio infrastructure and spurred a new wave of signal routing within broadcast plants.

At the heart of Steve’s work was a deep, abiding love for the medium of radio itself; a love manifested since childhood. He wrote, in 2008: “Radio is a bit like a kiss, no? When passion takes a grip, a kiss connects two humans in an exchange of secrets and emotions. We kiss furtively, lasciviously, gently, shyly, hungrily, and exuberantly. We kiss in broad daylight and in the dead of night. We give ceremonial kisses, affectionate kisses, Hollywood air kisses, kisses of death, and (in fairytales) pecks that revive princesses. At its best, and in our imagination, radio has such a variety, and a similar power.

“It is well-known that one’s lifelong musical taste is pretty much imprinted during the teen years. Our connection to radio might be as well. How many of us, during those sensitive years, listening to a great DJ or talk host, decided we wanted to be a part of that?…Think about the vast numbers of people for whom work is just work, and consider how fortunate we are to have found a vocation bound in such a way to our inner spirit.”

Church fought a three-year battle with brain cancer. He passed away quietly at his home near Cleveland, on September 28, 2012. He is survived by his loving wife Lana, stepson Dimitri, mother Jacqueline Burgess, and brothers Brent Church, Dann Church, and Todd Church. He was 57 years old. Steve Church — 1955 - 2012

(10/2/2012 2:23:22 PM)
Very sad news. I had the pleasure of meeting Steve back in 1995, when the idea of broadcasting radio programming via the Internet was brand new. Steve dropped by to see what I was up to at KPIG, and we spent several fascinating hours brainstorming about what might be possible.

A brilliant engineer, a savvy entrepreneur, and a really nice guy.

- Bill Goldsmith
(10/1/2012 5:16:04 PM)
I'm very saddened to hear of Steve's death. I worked with Steve back in the WFMK days and remember his energy and ambition well. He was a brilliant engineer who used his gifts and talents for the greater good of our industry. My condolences to his family and to those who worked with him.

- Frank Maynard
(10/1/2012 10:22:01 AM)
What an innovator. Steve had a real impact on our industry and the listeners we serve.

- Dan Halyburton
(10/1/2012 6:47:23 AM)
Steve was a true innovator and his talents will be missed. And, brain cancer is an insidious foe. Hopefully, a medical Steve will come up with a way to beat it.

- Phil Beckman
(10/1/2012 6:28:02 AM)
I'm very sad to hear of the passing of Steve. I met Steve in Lansing Michigan in 1976. I wasn't in the radio industry at the time. He and his girlfriend and me and my husband had lots and lots of really fun times and I will never forget them. I reconnected with Steve at an NAB convention about 20 years later and we had the best time catching up on old times. Very sad sad news today...he will be missed.

- June Barnes

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