By Norma
Opelika Observer

Submitted photo John Herbert Orr and his secretary for 32 years, Mary Jordan Bohler.

Submitted photo
John Herbert Orr and his secretary for 32 years, Mary Jordan Bohler.

John Herbert Orr returned home to Opelika from the hospital in Germany. Though still suffering with back pain, he delved into multiple fledgling business ventures. One of those was radio station WJHO.  The call letters were his initials; incidentally the names of all of his business pursuits included forms of his name or initials.
In 1953, a young lady, who had just graduated from business college, applied for a job as secretary at ORRadio, Industries. She was hired on the spot by the vice-president Joe Bunkley and went straight to work.
Within a few weeks, she took minutes for the regular board meeting held at the company.  Orr attended the meeting, like any other member of the board, and blended in with the group in a relaxed, casual way.   Mary had no clue as to who he was, as she took down the proceedings on her Stenotype.  When the meeting was over, she was startled as John Herbert spoke firmly to the vice-president.  “You’re going to have to hire another secretary, because I’m going to take this one to work for me.”  And that is how Mary Jordan Bohler came to be the personal secretary of John Herbert Orr, a thirty-two year endeavor.
Orr had purchased several empty buildings at an industrial park in the edge of Opelika.  The site had been a German POW camp; but was deactivated in September of 1945, later to be deeded to the City of Opelika and developed into an industrial park.  It was the perfect place for Orr to develop his multiple business adventures under the umbrella of ORRadio Industries.  He established his office there and used the facilities to manufacture and distribute an ORRadio Industries product , Orrox; a yellow-colored iron oxide powder used as a coating to make magnetic tape.
That was where Mary Bohler went to work as an 18-year-old girl.  “It was exciting to be where something new was going on all of the time; never a boring minute,” she said. When asked to share some personal insights about Orr, Bohler replied, “I would best describe our relationship through the years as ‘paternal’, because I was so young when I went to work for him.  In the work place, everyone was treated equally, no matter what type of work they were doing.  Mr. Orr was very devout in his faith and had a devotional time weekly for his employees.  No one was forced to be there; but no one could work during that time.  He helped lots of people that no one ever knew about.  Some people referred to him behind his back as ‘a cigar-smoking angel,’” she said wryly.
“Money was often an issue in the early days, as one product would succeed, while another would begin to lose money; but something would always come along to bail us out,” Mary said.
She recalled that July 1956 until December 1958 was named the Geophysical Year.  The oil industry, in need of a way to measure seismic response to explosions, was looking for a magnetic tape capable of taking the measurements on their equipment.  The industry chose a handful of companies, including ORRadio Industries, to submit a tape sample.
Orr told Bohler they could figure something out.  He brought tape web to her, and she meticulously measured the required width of tape with a steel edged ruler; using a hole punch on the sides.  ORRadio Industries got the contract.  They tooled up to produce the tape, which brought in huge dividends for the company; just when it was needed most.
Orr was making equipment, tape and parts for larger companies; he was usually the only supplier.  He had produced the first commercially available audio tape, video tape, and computer tape in the world; as ORRadio Industries sales continued to expand into the late 1950’s.  In 1959, the Ampex Corporation purchased controlling interest of ORRadio Industries, when they decided it was cheaper to manage the business than to keep buying their tape.
Orr then founded OrrTronics which developed the lubricated tape used in closed loop tape systems.  The system, called the “Orrtronic Tapette”, was produced for home, commercial, and automotive use; evolving through single track mono, two-track mono, and stereo versions.
In 1969 through 1975, Opelikan Newell Floyd was Orr’s administrative assistant.  When asked what the job entailed, he replied, “Whatever John Orr wanted me to do, from a quick flight to Germany or a morning drive to check on a factory he owned in another town that made conduit tubing for threading wires.  He later sold that company to South Wire. I never knew from one day to the next what I would be doing.   When I joined him, Orr had already sold Orrtronics to Delco Battery, and had formed Magna-Tech and Orrox Corporation.  Let’s just say there was plenty of diversification in my life.”
Magna-Tech and Orrox specialized in hard disc drive controllers, refurbishing of Quadruplex video tape recorder heads, and computerized view 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{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0} of all television programming originating on videotape.
When asked to share his impression of Orr as a man, Floyd was thoughtful for a moment:  “I am happy to say that he never spoke unkindly to me, and I left with good memories.  He hired me for the job because he could tell we both had high standards when it came to getting the job done.  I did, however, hear him chew out a few employees; so I knew he could be firm.  He was no pushover.  I later took the position of Assistant City Clerk of Opelika, with Orr’s good will and endorsement.”
Orr himself retired from Orrox a year later, in 1976, and promptly founded Orr Proprietorship, which transcribed 1960’s recorded media from early cylinder recordings, onto modern tape, for preservation.
In 1984, when John Herbert Orr was 73 years old, he died of a heart attack while on a Sunday afternoon drive with his sister. To say he was an entrepreneur par excellence is an under-statement.  He was a man ahead of his time; seeing potential in every new idea.  The expansion and development of those ideas revolutionized the way we listen to music, receive the news, watch videos, and record scientific data.
John Herbert Orr was truly an extraordinary man.