Monster Cable in the 1990s

A Bottoms-Up Oral History

The author at work, Monster Cable, 1993.

Think back to your first serious, full-time paying job — particularly one you stayed at for longer than a year or two. Chances are, much of your lifelong sense of the workplace — how it operates, how one maneuvers within it, and how work does or doesn’t get done — was stamped upon you at that first job. Perhaps every place of employment since then has been implicitly or even explicitly measured against that formative experience.

For those of us who worked diligently and hard at Monster Cable in the early 1990s, these lessons, such as they were, haven’t been easily forgotten. To a person, the people with whom I’ve kept in touch with since that time have amassed a fantastic assortment of stories, anecdotes, quotes, quibbles and lifelong relationships that were incubated during that time. On Facebook, we’ve shared some of these hijinks and shenanigans back and forth, leading me to dubiously anoint myself the oracle and shepherd of these times, lest they be forgotten by all.

First, some background.

I graduated from college at 21 years of age in 1989 with a highly uncoveted degree in English literature, with zero idea of what I actually wanted to do with my life. After losing out on a much-desired copy editing gig, and while quite seriously considering full-time work slumming it as a parking lot attendant & living with my parents in San Jose, I answered an ad to be a customer service rep at Monster Cable in South San Francisco, CA. I recall thinking at the time that it was probably a cable television company, and that cable TV might be kind of a fun sector to work in.

Six years later, in 1995, I left Monster Cable — but not after accumulating six years’ worth of ridiculous character observations, uninformed workplace stereotypes and enough stories to fill a three-ring binder.

Monster Cable in the early 1990s was in the throes of a transition from being a consumer electronics bit player driven by a self-imposed cult of personality around founder, CEO and “Head Monster” Noel Lee to being a quite successful and profitable cog in the greater audiophile ecosystem.

The company, far from being in cable TV, sold high-end speaker cable and what we then called “interconnects” that linked various pieces of your stereo set-up together. No longer limited by the “garbage wire” that came in the box with one’s speakers, consumers were now free to spend ten, twenty and even hundreds of dollars upgrading to Monster Cable’s superior products, with the assurance that said cables had been minutely engineered to flat-out sound better. Audiophiles loved them, or at least claimed to.

The company had a “pro” line as well of guitar cables and keyboard hook-ups that Lee worked closely with various cheeseball musicians like Boz Scaggs and stores like Guitar Center to promote. Lee’s marketing prowess was truly something, and it helped make his company into a behemoth that would later have the money to spend on full naming rights to the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium (“Monster Park”, 2004–2008) — though, truth be told, the naming rights were procured for a bargain basement price of $6M for 4 years. The company attended every trade show & conference and maximized every branding opportunity available to them, building a dealer network around the country that was getting drunk on the high commissions and profit margins Monster Cable sales afforded them.

In the early 1990s, the smaller, soon-to-be-bigger company — both factory and offices — was located near the 101 freeway at the end of a cul-de-sac in an industrial part of South San Francisco, at 274 Wattis Way. This is where our story takes place.

The Monster Cable employee base, circa 1991.

Before we get going, I want to issue a caveat that there’s no animosity nor ill will on my part to anyone in this story. With the passage of nearly 25 years, these pre-internet recollections of workplace foibles and chicanery are just that — fun recollections. There were well over 500 people who cycled through Monster Cable’s employment doors during the early 90s, and this oral history contains only a very biased smattering of them. Of the ones not consulted here, some are deceased; some have zero internet presence; some were in upper management, and would therefore negate this as a “bottoms-up” tale; and obviously, most simply weren’t asked (this isn’t a book, merely an online-only oral history).

More to the point, I recruited those whom I was already friends with and had kept in touch with over 20+ years. Sadly, it’s far more “dude-centric” than I had wished for, and does not reflect the fact that Monster Cable was a very gender-integrated workplace with women well-placed both in upper management and in virtually every department. I asked multiple 1990s female co-workers for contributions but had to settle for the (excellent) reminiscences from some of my male comrades.

So take this as tenderly-remembered tales from a long-ish time ago, told by a small cross-section of people who were there.


Noel Lee — The Head Monster

Thayer Walker: Noel Lee was a non-stop marketing machine who introduced the audio world to the high-end cable industry. His constant tweaking applied not only to the development and marketing of products, but to his theories and philosophy of company functions and culture. There would be a collective departmental cringe followed any statements that began with “Noel wants…”

Danny Tanaka: When the Soviet Union was collapsing in, I think about, 1991 Noel had gone to Moscow to talk to a man about being the Monster Cable distributor for Russia. The State Dept. had issued advisories about the safety of being anywhere in the Soviet Union. I was sitting in Irene’s office when she called Noel at his hotel and suggested that he leave and go to Germany or London until the situation was better. She told him that there were reports of tanks in the streets. After looking out the window he reported back that there was literally no one in the streets and he didn’t see any tanks either and no he wasn’t going to leave. I later learned that the hotel staff knocked on his door and convinced him that it was time to go.

Phil Keeley: I started at Monster when it was located on Townsend Street in the late 1980s. It became clear that Noel and his inner circle were sort of their own clique: Rita, Jim Hanson, Irene Baran and others. Long, closed-door meetings. Strange, urgent plans being hatched. I decided I would never be among this inner circle, and had no desire to get to know the King Himself. So I ignored him as best as I was able.

Danny Tanaka: Noel’s gold-digger girlfriend was a gem. She showed up one day with three unsavory Hong Kong Chinese guys in black suits and black ties and sunglasses. They never unbuttoned their suit jackets. She wanted to introduce them to Noel because they wanted to invest in Monster Cable. I don’t know how he got out of that one.

Jay Hinman: I rarely had interactions with him. There was something about him being the CEO, and me being this green customer service rep, that kept me a bit intimidated. One time in Chicago at a Consumer Electronics Show, I happened to be walking next to him for one of the first times ever, and he just reached out to his right and handed me his really heavy briefcase — “Here”. Not hey, do you mind carrying this, I’m a little tired, but “here”. So I silently walked him to the taxi line and handed it back to him once he got in. I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t speak, he didn’t say thank you — just “here”. I don’t think we spoke again for at least another year or two.

Glenn Munlawin: In Dallas at some CEDIA show, Noel needed help to his car. He was at the booth and asked, er, commanded me to walk him downstairs to where his car was parked (Porsche 911). Since he had a limp (I heard later he had hip problems) he stopped and told me to just fetch his car, which was literally almost 50 feet away.

Jay Hinman: Late in my career there — seriously, I’d been working there at least four years at that point — we went into a 6-person meeting with Noel and sat around a conference table, and before we got started he pointed right at me and said, “Who’s he?”.

Phil Keeley: Six or seven years after I started, I was the Production Manager. On many occasions the PA system would announce that I was needed in Noel’s office. I inevitably ignored these pleas. But Noel had such a short attention span that whatever urgent query I might answer was quickly forgotten as he beat up on those foolish enough to assemble in his office while he free-associated plans, products, financial schemes and other disorganized topics as they entered his head. One of the mysteries of my informal power was my complete lack of fear of Noel Lee.


Howard Harman — The Silver Fox of Sales

Jay Hinman: Harman was a white-haired, smooth-talking sales VP — a true “silver fox” — who was impossible not to like. He was quite successful in working with our dealer reps, and had a personality that was all its own.

Glenn Munlawin: Whenever he walked into the men’s restroom and he saw you at a urinal, his infamous phrase, “Shaking hands with the champ, eh?!” never failed to bring a laugh.

Jay Hinman: He said it every time, without exception, during the six years I worked there. That’s a lot of “shaking hands with the champ”.

Thayer Walker: Howard would see you at the coffee maker, waiting for the pot to fill. “Drinking on the job, eh?” he’d say, quick-stepping his way through the office, slim and upright, silver hair and beard trimmed just so. He was your pal, and tried to encourage the cubicle inhabitants in the non-air conditioned section of office where we received consumer calls and battered our old keyboards to enter the orders. “Working hard or hardly working?” he’d say on his way to the fax machine.

Danny Tanaka: I remember him walking around at Chinese New Year’s with his little red lai see envelope in which he had replaced the $5 bill with a $100 bill, just to flash in front of people so that they would think he got more money than they did.

Jay Hinman: There was this attractive woman named Diane that worked there a short while, and one time she was wearing a miniskirt and walking down a long hallway with Howard following her at a distance, and me following Howard at a similar distance. His eyes were zeroed in on her for a good ten seconds as we walked, and finally he couldn’t help himself. While she continued to walk, he stopped her progress with “Wearing your short dress today, eh?”. She turned beet-red, and starting walking quite a bit faster.

Thayer Walker: At the Christmas party one year he played the Santa, and as he careened down the stairs from the changing room, I made a crack about his beard and skinny legs. “Eat shit, Thayer”, Santa said, reeking of alcohol as he passed.


“The Goal”

“The Goal”, one of the best-selling business books of all time, and a blessing & curse upon Monster Cable employees in the 1990s.

Jay Hinman: Noel was really enamored with this Israeli operations management concept called “The Theory of Constraints”, which was coined by a guy named Eliyahu Goldratt. It’s about overcoming bottlenecks in the manufacturing process, among other things.

Danny Tanaka: The Theory of Constraints really does work. but unfortunately it is pretty much entirely for the benefit of the organization and not the customer.

Jay Hinman: They brought in an intense Israeli consultant named “Green” to teach us all the theory, even those of us not in the factory, and to use it as a basis for how to operate. It wasn’t hocus-pocus at all, but I remember how pissed everyone was to have to go to these on-site classes, and how they made everyone in the company read this book about it called “The Goal”.

Danny Tanaka: I believe Green worked for The Goldratt Institute and also ran our short lived Israeli Factory (MCI). He would come to teach us about “Herbie” and how to mitigate the “Blue Machine”. Green used to ship what was immediately available and then make multiple back order shipments to eventually fulfill the customer’s order. The national distributors were enraged. Every shipment required them to open a new duty application, at tremendous extra expense to them. A Monster Cable motto was “Short before long”. It meant that if you can fill 4 small orders and one big order, do the small ones first so that they can get their orders early, and the big order still ships on time. What could go wrong?

Jay Hinman: There were all these concepts in Hebrew, like “Chupchik”, that we had a lot of fun mocking.

Danny Tanaka: In ”The Goal” the constraint is labeled the “blue” machine. I recall half-serious discussions about painting all the machines blue in the factory and issuing blue lab coats to everyone.

Thayer Walker: Throughput, it was called. A key principle of the Theory of Constraints which was part of our indoctrination into the company culture and operations. Identify the constraint and arrange resources to accommodate throughput. “Throughput” we’d say, index finger sarcastically in the air, and trot out to the factory floor to see where the piece of paper was that represented an order being built by the lines of Southeast Asian and Chinese ladies on the soldering line, or by the Vietnamese guys in shipping.


Work in the Pre-Internet Era

Monster Cable booth at the annual Ace Hardware dealer convention, 1993.

Jay Hinman: It’s amazing how important the fax machine was to our business. Every order that wasn’t called in by a dealer or by a dealer’s rep came dripping off the fax machine. I eventually got really good at changing the paper and the toner, lest we go without thousands of dollars’ worth of orders that day.

Glenn Munlawin: We worked off this kludgy DOS-like system called AMOS designed by some Israeli engineers. How Noel or Irene met them, I forget, but that thing was a beast. It would freeze the whole data entry system prompting our boss to call out a company-wide announcement that AMOS was going down.

Thayer Walker: My narrow view of the company was guided through AMOS. AMOS operators stared at the classic green screen and pounded stodgy keyboards with a resonant clunk to every keystroke. The credit department, where I started as a credit/collections grunt, used a module that allowed access to customer accounts, invoices and a few loopholes to billing that we weren’t supposed to touch. The internet was years off for the company and even more for the department.

Jay Hinman: In 1989 and 1990, we didn’t even enter in our own orders from dealers. We’d write them down on a piece of paper, and a “data entry” person would come in during the night and “enter them in”. It was maybe an hour’s worth of work each night, tops, but I know they were taking six-hour shifts. Eventually management took the twenty minutes or so it took to train us on AMOS.

Thayer Walker: Our green-screened terminals did not access the outside world; we communicated by printed letters. For this there was a little bank of Apple Macintosh boxes which we used for writing polite letters of concern for money.

Jay Hinman: If a customer called in to see when an order was going to be shipped, I’d have to walk the length of the building, back into the factory, back to shipping, and ask them. They’d tell me where it was in the queue, and I’d walk back to my desk, and call the customer back and tell them “tomorrow”. I lost a bunch of weight that first year, mostly due to tons of back-and-forth from my desk to the factory and back.

Thayer Walker: The marketing departments and anyone connected to Noel were working on Macs. In my group, we kept our heads down and eyes on the green screens.

Danny Tanaka: I was in Human Resources, but had to use the same workstation Mac SEs that everybody else used until it finally dawned on Nicki, the VP that this wasn’t very confidential. Then I got to have my very own exclusive Mac and printer.

Glenn Munlawin: Danny sat near me, and I always thought it was funny he would interview candidates right in the open. Totally no privacy!

Danny Tanaka: I eventually got a real office too so that I could interview people and talk to employees in private. Those awful Nextel walkie-talkie phones that Noel was in love with. Fortunately, I only had to use one if I was on the road somewhere.

Thayer Walker: In the mid-1990s we started to hear about email, and that people within the company were sending them to each other. I checked all the screens I could access in AMOS for any type of portal in which we could type messages at someone, but there were only a few general modules that could “broadcast comments”, usually through an internal application specific to obscure operations.

Jay Hinman: When we got true email in the office in 1994, it was a total revelation. It was DOS-based, but I could still send Glenn a prank email, and he could send me one back. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Sometimes we even used it for work, too.

Thayer Walker: We heard that Green had developed a PC-based version of AMOS that had color screens (!). “Beautiful”, he said during one of his visits from Israel to our factory. But Noel held out, wanting AMOS to keep working and to not have to spend the capital on infrastructure. So we continued faxing and phone calling, word processing on the shared original Macs, and printing our communications while the rest of the world talked about this new internet.


So….Did Monster Cable Actually Work…??

Spool of Monster Cable’s entry-level “XP” speaker cable

Glenn Munlawin: Allegedly, the sound was richer and more full with Monster Cable products. It was an accessory, according to MC literature, that your preamp, speakers and other audio and video electronics needed.

Jay Hinman: I flew down to San Diego to train store reps at The Good Guys on how to quote two prices on stereo equipment to consumers, always starting with “Well, your price with the Monster Cable is…”, even if they’d never heard of Monster Cable, and only then moving on to a glum, “Oh, and your price without the Monster Cable is…”.

Glenn Munlawin: When a sales rep at a store was selling a full home audio or home theater system, you didn’t want to “leave money on the table” by falling short of your commissions — sell them Monster Cable as a “necessory”!

Phil Keeley: Did Monster Cable perform as promised? Well, my read on it was yes and no. The success of the product was part relentless marketing, part science (electrons, man!), and part stoners’ convincing themselves they could “hear the difference.” At the low and mid-range, it made no difference. You had to have a five or ten grand system in your “listening room” to really hear the improvements, and that was only if you were into classical recordings. For rock, not so much.

CD Sound Rings, early 1990s. Woe to anyone who actually stuck these on their compact discs.

Jay Hinman: To Noel’s credit, he dabbled in every angle he possible could to wring money out of perfectionist audiophiles. When vinyl stopped being dominant and CDs took over, he created these 5-packs of sticky “CD Sound Rings”. You’d stick one on top of a CD, and it supposedly weighed it down and brought out deeper, richer audio tones than you’d otherwise hear.

Thayer Walker: “Blue Light Special” was a big sales idea we had to implement following one of our department chats with Noel. Whenever we contacted any dealer for any reason, we were to try and offload a ton of overstock inventory at half price. Orders didn’t come to us directly; they came from our reps around the country, via fax, written in various forms from hand-scratched to early word-processing templated. They were done deals, but we were instructed to call the reps back and offer a set of, say, thick, ugly beige P2P cables or CD Sound Rings at half off with each order, or whatever the “Blue Light Special” was that week. Very few orders were actually amended, and very little of the overstock moved. Eventually the program went away.

Phil Keeley: Monster Cable’s success was also partly a matter of a booming economy, and aggressive competition between all the regional and national players; the Best Buys, Good Guys, Circuit City, Magnolia Hi-Fi, J&R Music World and son on. There were thousands of stores nationwide selling TVs, stereos and music. We were shipping millions of dollars of product to these selling machines. At one show or another I commented to some industry guy my astonishment at the tractor-trailer after tractor-trailer that was leaving our docks — out into America. He one-upped me by informing me of the hundreds of thousands of televisions they sold per year. We really couldn’t quite grasp the scale of these numbers.

Thayer Walker: Monster Cable — I think it was Howard Harman — came up with a brilliant business move for us to scrape through the recession of the early 1990s: embrace “Joe Six-Pack.” A slew of entry-level products would be developed and marketed to him, Joe Six-Pack, and the company would be saved. We were to embrace the idea, and drop the snobbery practiced by our true Audiophile customers. Monster had first established the market in high end listening through better cables. We would get the calls from individual audiophiles, all alone in dark rooms, wanting to share their experiences in their audio worlds with a captive customer service voice. Yet then we totally changed the game on them, opening the door to Joe Six-Pack, and releasing the flood of cheaply-made, but highly marked up, high-volume-sales-required cables for Joe.

Phil Keeley: In that respect, Monster Cable did work, because it certainly sold well.


The Office Ambiance

Jay Hinman: I can only speak for our department, AMD (Accounts Management Dept.), but when we weren’t busy there was a lot of messing around and intra-company pranks.

Glenn Munlawin: We tried to start up a phony program called “Monsters Helping Monsters”. We were joking about announcing this effort during the monthly Monster birthday cake ceremony, in which a program was put together to enable each Monster to give each other a helping hand, be it a loan, lending his/her car, babysitting. whatever. We even typed up some flyers via the Apple desktops in the back by accounting, using the Monster font, too. It never got off the ground.

Jay Hinman: During slow periods, I would do this phone trick with Glenn in which I’d call one of our friendly dealer reps, perhaps Audio Associates in New Jersey, then right before they picked up, I’d immediately transfer the call to Glenn, who sat one cubicle over. His desk phone would ring, he’d be going “Hello, hello?”, and Audio Associates would be saying, “But you called me! What do you need?”. “Wait, I didn’t call you!” etc. Loads of fun.

Thayer Walker: Part of the job in AMD was also dealing with consumers, who called for help with broken products, detailed product information, or sometimes as an audiophile who just wanted to talk to another human about their experiences alone in dark rooms full of audio equipment and cables.

Jay Hinman: It was soon very clear to me that the extreme audiophiles were truly a breed apart, like any obsessives with too much time and money invested in any one weird thing.

Danny Tanaka: A guy called me one Friday afternoon to enquire about technical specifications on the Monster 1000 phono cartridge. In the course of our conversation, I was stunned to learn that he was from the New York Audiophile Society and that they were going to listen to two or three different cartridges playing exactly the same selections, drink some wine and argue about which one sounded the best. A typical Friday night for the audiophiles.

Thayer Walker: We’d often get the questions about where the products were made, and had word from the top that we were to say all of it was made in the USA, even though weekly containers from China disgorged tons of the primary components for assembly, and later in complete packaging. Customers on the phone would harangue us and threaten to never buy another Monster product if they found out our stuff was the same as all the low-qualify knockoffs coming out of China, stealing American jobs or enslaving children in Asia. This continued for years, until there was a certain percentage that put us over the line of being able to claim “US origin”.

Jay Hinman: This era at Monster Cable coincided with the apotheosis of bestselling “pop management” books from would-be gurus like Tom Peters, Steven Covey and Jim Collins. Consequently we’d get new company mottos all the time, unveiled at all-hands meetings to fire up the troops.

Thayer Walker: “Act as One” was a seemingly simple and reasonable Monster Motto that came with a list of core others that Noel made up. After one of the company rallies he’d hold, we middle managers would greet each other in the warehouse aisles with “Act as One!”, followed by a Roman salute from the chest. “Move the Needle”, or do something that affects the company metrics positively. Very inspiring.


Life On the Factory Floor

Thayer Walker: Each order that came in was built by the factory in the back of the building, down to the soldering and packaging, which trickled down a conveyor to shipping, and was stacked on pallets until the thing was complete — or was held there by the evil credit department, awaiting some payment issue. That last part was my job.

Phil Keeley: It once got back to me that workers were stealing speaker and interconnect cables. We brought a fellow whom we’d busted into my office, and I interrogated him. It turned out his brother-in-law had recently bought a stereo, and the thief boasted that he would “cable” the system for him. He swore he did not intend to sell the cables. He was generally a good worker, a decent guy; an illegal Mexican earning just above minimum wage — as pitiful then as it is today — and trying to impress this brother-in-law. Of course, I knew we were buying the stuff for pennies-a-foot and selling it for a dollar-a-foot. What the guy wanted probably, at cost (including labor), was about five or six dollars’ worth of cables.

Jay Hinman: Sometimes they’d just throw older cables onto the carpet — things that we’d normally sell for $80 — and just let the office employees have at it.

Phil Keeley: Together we made a list of what the brother-in-law needed, and I sent a supervisor out to the returns area to hustle up what he’d intended to steal. Thereafter, all employee thefts had to go through me for approval. It was the Anti-Theft Theft Program. Probably the first and only time such a policy has been initiated in the history of American Manufacturing.

Thayer Walker: The system-head office personalities like me had to learn a fashion of charming our way through the harried factory leads, or around the benignly uninformative system status indicators to move things ahead of the standard process.

Jay Hinman: So much for the Theory of Constraints — we could badly throw off the shipping schedule simply by asking Phil (our friend) or someone in shipping to do us a favor, like prioritizing a massive $10,000 Circuit City order over 30 smaller and very late orders, thereby making 30 small customers angry and one large customer very happy.

Thayer Walker: Phil Keeley was the master of these workaround practices. A frantic AMD rep might find him out in the smoking area, besieging him with their sad story of the needy customer who’d been waiting for a week or more for their order to ship. The rep might be holding a copy of the order, or just a scrap of paper with a number on it, which would be totally ignored by Phil as the rep ambled through the factory lines looking for evidence of the lost order. Bits of it could be queued up in the soldering line, while others were stacked as spools of clear-coated copper spools in boxes, but not in shipping.

The factory leads would snap into action at Phil’s request and crank out the lagging work orders, often ahead of other, just as important and late orders on the floor. A final stop by shipping manager Hai’s office, or supervisor Long, both of the Vietnamese core of shipping guys, would alert everyone down the line to watch for the thing that was being pushed through. Oh yes, your order is shipping today, we’d say on the call back to the factory rep in Richmond, VA, Houston, TX or across the bay in Oakland, CA.

Jay Hinman: If I can remember one thing extremely well from those days, it was the shipping manager Hai trying to get in touch with Thayer on the company-wide intercom in his heavily-accented Vietnamese, with disgust, pleading and resignation in his voice because he’d been asked to prioritize something ridiculous: “Thayer, please pick up line 58…..Thayer……line 58….Thayer….”


The Monster Music Record Label

Midnight Voices “Dreams Keep Blowing My Mind” — an early release on Monster Music, 1991

Thayer Walker: Noel Lee sincerely wanted an audiophile-quality record label that would coexist in Monster’s realm within the consumer electronics industry. In the hallways there were autographed photos of music stars, many of them of dubious fame, though these were not all Monster Music record label artists. The usual pattern was for the company to latch on to one act, then record and unsuccessfully market them to unsuspecting consumer audio dealers.

Jay Hinman: I was a young alterna-jerk music snob already, but that aside, I was still taken aback by the utterly tasteless and vanilla musical acts we were flogging and/or partnering with.

Thayer Walker: Midnight Voices were an early 90s black and white rap group, (“pink and brown”, I overheard the marketing whirlwind Babs Stock call them.) They were good guys, hard-working, with a solid album recorded and released by “Monster Music”. Yet they were also stuck in a tiny subsidiary of a smallish, non-music industry company.

Either in desperation or through a contact with Noel, Monster contracted Babs Stock, known at the time for her work with San Francisco-based Journey, to promote Midnight Voices, a band formed by Mohammed Bilal and Will Power.

Jay Hinman: That was Babs’ sole job — to promote Midnight Voices. She was incredibly quirky, as were so many people at this company. I liked working with her. For some reason, she used to frequently end questions with “…in life”, i.e. “How are things going for you, in life?” or “What have you been up to lately, in life?”.

Thayer Walker: Babs occupied the large corner cubicle near customer service, and her frenetic voice could be heard over the din of line printers, keyboard clacking and consumer calls, hammering existing dealers and outside mom and pop shops to buy the forthcoming Midnight Voices album. CDs and records were printed and stocked in the warehouse, posters adorned the walls, and Babs harangued her industry connections to promote and buy the album. But nothing moved very quickly. Babs eventually self-destructed and disappeared in France; Midnight Voices found a different agent, and lead singer Mohammed got famous on MTV for his role in Real World.

Jay Hinman: It’s hard to square with the music of today, but there was a very popular 1970s-rooted sound called “smooth jazz” that was obviously a big favorite of Noel’s. Think Kenny G, George Benson, Spyro Gyra, and even Sade. The epitome of cheese, favored mostly by guys with mullets, midlife-crisis sports cars and expensive audio equipment.

Thayer Walker: A secondary function of Monster Music was to contract famous or once-famous bands for the Consumer Electronics Show party and awards ceremony Monster threw every year in Las Vegas. Legit acts like Tower of Power, who appeared several times over the years, would draw the biggest crowds. George Benson, BB King and Earth, Wind & Fire were up there as well, adding to the autographed, framed poster collection in the walls of fame back at the office.

Employees who worked the convention would be conscripted to run the show on a Friday night after a long week of booth duty and hard labor. Some years the acts were relatively unknown, friends of Noel or of a previous generation. Tuck and Patti, Amanda McBroom and Boz Scaggs highlighted a few of those shows, and with straight faces we would usher guests to their tables, point to the free bar and leave them to it.


Closing Thoughts

Thayer Walker: Monster of the 1990s was a classic, organically-developed small company that was bursting its seams as it took on the big league industry dealers and then grew outrageously. Six years into it I was seriously burned out on customer service, the proximity to consumers and the antics in marketing and sales. My systems and internal operations experience were noted and championed by VP of Ops Irene Baran. In that environment I was offered a job in the establishment of a Distribution Center, a giant warehouse where all orders would be fulfilled. Others in production and operations got on board with the growth and promotions through more expansion into a bigger facility, additional warehouses and international companies that kept us operations people extremely busy into the 21st century.

Experts and specialists started being hired to run operations after about 2001; the homespun career party ended, the factory and warehouse went away as they offshored and out-of-stated those ops. I had worked and travelled in Europe (and fantasized about living in Holland or Germany), helped start an office in Ireland, set up systems in Tijuana and Ontario, smoothed feathers with a giant corporation in France, and solved logistics problems between foreign entities from the EU to Singapore. That was a long way from being the little credit guy with the green screen and stacks of invoices. Good times.

Jay Hinman: I left in 1995 to chase a job in a field that I thought might turn out to be hot, the “cellular telephone industry”, which I still work in to this day. I quite seriously thought that without me and all of my institutional knowledge, there was a chance that Monster Cable might start to slide and eventually go out of business. What an ego! I remember hinting something along those lines to Irene as I was leaving, and she quite rightly and magnanimously said, “This company’s a lot stronger than just one person, believe me”.

Glenn Munlawin: Reflecting back at my career at Monster Cable, I really had a good time there. Despite Noel’s eccentricities, the people I met and worked with made it all worthwhile. Can’t believe it has been over 25 years. I admit, I have used Noel’s marketing slogan, “Don’t leave money on the table” for a marketing campaign I was managing. People thought I was a genius!

Immense thanks to Danny Tanaka, Glenn Munlawin, Phil Keeley and Thayer Walker for their recollections and memories for this piece.

Dedicated to Daniel Graham, Vern Smith, David Poole and others who are no longer with us.

Niecy Reilly, phone home — we miss you.