Audiovisual Rocks Smith

January 6, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — It could be said that Arlen Smith has been led by the ear through his entire career. And it is that listening ear that took him from a small rock 'n' roll band in Grand Rapids to starting a successful audiovisual company.

At the tender age of 19, Smith was recruited by Motown Records and went to work in Detroit with bands such as the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Parliaments and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.

And that was after he had played in a rock 'n' roll band, built a recording studio in his basement and completed an internship at a local production studio.

Today, Smith, president and CEO of Central Interconnect Inc., is still working with his first love: sound. Growing his business from scratch — starting with only himself and expanding to 36 employees — Smith has been witness to some major technological changes in the industry.

"The third octave equalizer has been invented and, just to put it into perspective, when I started out in the business, equalizers didn't even exist," said Smith. "The sound system analyzer was developed, which allows us to tailor the sound system to match the room acoustics so that you have the best sound possible — a huge innovation."

Equipment such as video projectors went from costing nearly $80,000 and being the size of a snowmobile to running about $6,000 and being small enough to slip into a briefcase.

Technology also has taken sound and visual equipment to the computer and the Internet. Smith noted that while sitting in his office, he is able to hop on the network, turn on the projector and adjust different settings, all with the touch of a key and the click of a mouse.

"We have all kinds of systems that control video equipment over the Internet; it can even send you an e-mail when it is time to change the bulbs on one of the projectors," said Smith. "Internet protocol has had a huge impact on all areas of our business."

It is with these technologies that Smith and Central Interconnect have taken on several projects in the area, including building the sound system at the Van Andel Arena. On that project Smith said the company used digital signal processing (DSP), which allows the sound source to be converted into a digital format, from whence it can be manipulated by filtering and amplifying and then routed to multiple outlets.

"You can do all of this with zero noise being added to the system, and our ability to control and improve the sound improves one-hundredfold through DSP and digitalization," he said.

Central Interconnect also has worked with Fifth Third Ballpark, where it built a building-block sound system that has already been added on to several times.

The business also designed a $1 million audiovisual system for the Haggai Institute in Maui, Hawaii, helping the institute train its missionaries through the use of technology.

In addition, Smith noted his company has installed sound systems for Mars Hill Church and the Richard and Helen DeVos Performing Arts Center at Grand Rapids Christian Schools. The company is currently working on the Caledonia Schools Performing Arts Center and the Forest Hills Schools Performing Arts Center.

Presently, Smith said Central Interconnect is completing work for the Wyoming City Council chambers and Grand Rapids Township audiovisual systems.

"These systems will allow developers and interested parties the ability to bring computer graphics and video presentations to the large screen format for all to see and understand," said Smith. "The days of having only flip charts or slide presentations are over. These systems are universal in that they can accept all types of computer and video media. The Wyoming City Council system is also equipped with a broadcast video production switcher for broadcast over cable TV."

One of Smith's most exciting projects was developing a circuit card for Phillips professional television. The circuit card plugs into Phillips' televisions so that a school with televisions in each classroom can be controlled by a master television. The remote control can be used to turn on and off and change channels on all televisions connected to the internal cable TV system. Other televisions pick up the signal and respond to the command and no additional wiring is required. The circuit card costs $75 and replaces control systems costing as much as $2,000 per set.

"East Grand Rapids was the first installation worldwide to have this system installed and it works beautifully," said Smith. "Since then we have installed this system in other locations as well as (with) other video professionals throughout the U.S."

And for a guy who simply loves his job, these achievements not only boost Central Interconnect, they fulfill Smith's goals.

Right now he adds that he is happy with the course the business is taking, working with high quality audiovisual systems and multi-site telephone network systems. The only change he might make: maybe someday taking the business to someplace warm, Smith joked.

When he isn't working with his tech-savvy counterparts and designing and developing million-dollar sound systems, he is still using his love of sound to play the piano at home. He noted that he plays mostly classical but does dabble in jazz and blues every now and then.

And at the end of the day, Smith says that it all comes down to contentment.

"I guess I just love my job. A couple of years ago a survey went out asking what you wanted for Christmas, and I responded that I already have everything — and the biggest gift of all is contentment," he said. "I like what I do; there is just not a thing I need."           

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