ROBBINSTON, Maine -- Robert W. (Bob) Henkel, one of the early journalists covering Silicon Valley's emergence and a longtime editor who helped shape the electronics industry press for several decades, died Sunday, Feb. 16, at his home here in Down East Maine. after a brief illness. He turned 84 in late January.
While working at the San Francisco bureau of the Wall Street Journal in the late 1950s, Henkel began covering the electronics and semiconductor companies that had taken root in the Santa Clara Valley, including Fairchild Semiconductor, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, and National Semiconductor. After stints with Electronic News and with Electronics magazine, he joined BusinessWeek as a senior editor, covering the rapidly evolving electronics industry. In the 1970s and early 1980s, his coverage chronicled a period when US companies and markets dominated the global electronics industry while Japan became a dominant supplier of DRAMs and other integrated circuits.
While at BusinessWeek, Henkel would often get direct phone calls from top industry executives in response to his cover stories -- including some angry ones from company presidents, CEOs, and chairmen. Years later, he would fondly remember those Wild West early days of the semiconductor and electronics industries, when press relations managers never got in the way of his talking to top executives. His direct contact list was the industry's who's who of 30-40 years ago, including TSMC's (and TI's) Morris Chang; National's Charley Sporck; Fairchild's (and Intel's) Robert Noyce; TI's Mark Shepherd and J. Fred Bucy; and Don Brooks of TI, Fairchild, TSMC, and UMC.
In 1985, Henkel was named editor-in-chief of Electronics. After the 58-year-old magazine was sold by McGraw-Hill in 1988, he joined CMP Publications as editorial director of the Electronics Group (which included EE Times and Electronic Buyers' News). While in this position, he played a hand in greatly expanding the editorial coverage of EE Times and EBN, in addition to launching the electronics industry's first global newspaper, Electronic World News, in 1989. EWN later formed the basis for EE Times' expanded international coverage with multiple news bureaus in Asia and Europe.
After retiring from his full-time position, Henkel helped launch a number of projects at CMP, including some early Internet-based publications (such as Semiconductor Business News, which later became EE Times' Silicon Strategies). From his home office in Maine, he continued working as a contributing editor and commentator for publications and Internet websites covering the semiconductor industry until 2007.
Most of the editors who have worked for Henkel will remember him fondly as a hard-driving journalist who demanded a lot from himself and his staff. Many senior editors in today's electronics business media (print and online) credit him with shaping their views of how to cover the industry.
Henkel did not come from a high-tech center. He rather grew up in the heartland of the country. Born in Wayne, Neb., on Jan. 26, 1930, he enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Omaha in 1948. After serving in the US Navy during the Korean War, he graduated with a BA in journalism in 1956. While in college, he worked as a camera/newsman for KMTV-TV in Omaha before taking a job as a reporter for the North Omaha Booster. In 1956, he joined the Wall Street Journal in its Chicago bureau and was soon moved its San Francisco bureau.
Henkel is survived by his wife of 57 years (Barbara), two grandsons, and a daughter-in-law. He was preceded in death by his son, Robert (Bob) Weyland Henkel of Portsmouth, N.H., in January 2013. No services are planned. For those wishing to honor his memory, the family requests contributions to the Robbinston Volunteer Fire Department or the Robbinston Historical Society in lieu of flowers.
Rob Lineback, market analyst at IC Insights, worked as an industry editor with Henkel during the past three decades.