Giant KillerJohn Goeken

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Goeken was into communications networks. In 1963 after he got out of the Army (he was in the Signal Corps), Goeken founded a company called Microwave Communications, Inc. to provide microwave links along railroad track rights-of-way. The idea was to build a communications network for truckers, which would relay messages from their low-power in-truck radios to their depots. But phone giant AT&T petitioned the FCC to prohibit the network, embroiling the company in legal problems for most of the 1960s.

Then, emboldened by the 1968 “Carterphone” court decision which required AT&T to allow non-Bell devices to connect to AT&T’s telephone network, an investor came in with the idea of expanding Goeken’s operations nationwide, and in 1969 the company was licensed as an alternative (to AT&T) long-distance-call carrier, better known by then by its initials: MCI. In 1974 MCI sued AT&T (and was joined in the suit by the U.S. Justice Dept.), which led to the breakup of AT&T’s telephone monopoly — and to a revolution in communications technologies, including another Goeken innovation: his Airfone service for commercial airliner passengers debuted in 1976; he sold that company and then did it again, with a better, digital version. “You do it because it’s something you believe in,” Goeken once said. “Everybody comes in and says you can’t do something, so I do it just to prove it.” After leaving MCI, in 1974 Goeken created a new network for Florists’ Transworld Delivery, which started as Florists’ Telegraph Delivery in 1910. Goeken’s Mercury Network, still used by FTD today, links about 50,000 florists in 154 countries and processes 15 million orders per year — and no doubt processed some orders for John “Jack” Goeken when he died on September 16 from esophageal cancer. He was 80.

From This is True for 19 September 2010