Icon of RC: Bob Novak [INTERVIEW]
Novak Electronics has closed after 38 years, but the legacy of the brand and its founder, Bob Novak, lives on. Here’s our interview with Bob, from our 2012 “Icons of RC” feature.
There are people in the RC industry who can certainly be called legends, but there are others whose contributions to our hobby’s innovation and progression push them past legend status and make them true RC icons. Novak Electronics got its start in the late 70s and right from the get-go it impacted the RC industry in a major way. I had a chance to sit down with the man who built Novak Electronics into what it is today, Mr. Bob Novak. Here’s what Bob had to share about his journey from being a kid who fell in love with RC to making a successful career out of it.
How did you get involved in RC? What was your job before Novak?
I started building model airplanes when I was five years old. I went from rubber-band models, to U-control models, to free flight models, and ultimately flew my first RC airplane in 1956. This got me hooked for life. I proceeded to get a degree in electrical engineering in 1968 and went to work for a company in Illinois as a crystal oscillator design engineer. This company made a variety of products for commercial and military customers. A lucky turn of events came my way when I was assigned to solve a frequency problem for an RC company called Micro Avionics. I came up with a simple solution and the president of the company asked me if I would be interested in moving to Southern California and working for him. Of course I said yes, as this was something that I always wanted to do.
Where did RC come from and where do you think it’s going?
RC has been around since the early part of the 1900s. It was very crude at that time but has made tremendous strides over the years. The basic digital control system we use today, which was invented by Don Mathis of Micro Avionics in the early 60s, has changed very little. Most of the technology and improvement has come from advances in component performance and size, as well as features that have been adapted to racing. We have recently benefited from the cell phone industry’s development of the inexpensive spread spectrum technology that has given us interference-free operation of our models. Maybe the next big thing will be direct thought control of our models [laughts].
How did you build Novak into what it is today?
Hard work, family, dedicated and skilled employees, innovation, never giving up when barriers or challenges arise, and having fun doing it.
What is it like being the namesake for one of RC’s biggest and most recognizable companies?
It is an honor for me and my family, who have been an integral part of Novak Electronics, to be recognized like this.
What were the challenges to building Novak when you started to what it is now, and what are current challenges you face?
Since this industry is very race-oriented, it has always been a challenge to make products that stay ahead of the competition. We were the fi rst company to bring extremely fast servos, miniature receivers, electronic speed controls, and sensor-based brushless motors to electric car racing. Current challenges are the fact that the number of manufacturers has risen dramatically in the last few years while the customer base has not grown as fast.
What is one thing you would like people to know about Novak?
Many customers still don’t know that Novak designs and manufactures all its speed controls and brushless motors in California. As far as I can see, we are the only company left in our industry that [designs and manufactures in the U.S.]
What do you think about the current state of the industry and do you have any predictions of the direction it’s heading?
Because the current state of the economy is weak, it has affected the state of our industry because families have less money to spend on their hobbies. Where the economy is going is anybody’s guess.
What is your proudest moment for Novak Electronics?
It is always great to be recognized by your peers and this happened to me twice. The first was when I was given the McEntee Memorial award by the model airplane industry in 1985, and second the induction into the Radio Control Car Action Hall of Fame in 2007. I am also proud of all of our innovations we have brought to the market and how they have impacted the user experience and growth of the industry. However, nothing beats seeing a customer enjoying this hobby that I have loved since I was five years old, and I am proud to be part of that experience. Thank you for allowing me to share my background with the readers of RCCA.