Bombs Away

Sonic Alert in Troy started out creating products for the deaf. Now the company is expanding to other markets, like college students.
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Photographs by Hayden Stinebaugh

Originally designed to help deaf people, the Sonic Bomb, developed by Troy’s Sonic Alert, is one of the most popular alarm clocks on college campuses, helping students answer the school bell after a long night of studying or partying.

“These things will wake the dead,” says Adam Kollin, the company’s founder, whose inspiration was helping his deaf grandmother know when someone was at her door and when her phone was ringing.

“My brother-in-law and I rigged up a system, running wires under carpet and inside walls, that triggered a light to flash when the doorbell or the phone rang,” says Kollin, describing the first system he created for his grandmother in 1972. “It worked for her. Then we thought we could help other people with the same problem.”

Six years later, using a loan from his father and savings from an assembly job at Pontiac Motors, Kollin launched Sonic Alert. The company’s first offering was a device that sensed the noise of a ringing or a buzzing alarm clock and activated flashing lights. It also caused the user’s bed to vibrate. Another early offering sensed the magnetic impulses of a ringing telephone and caused a light to flash.

Those products morphed into sound-activated, remote radio transmitters that could be placed in different rooms and relay electronic messages to a box, where lights flashed.

Adam Kollin
Adam Kollin is the mastermind behind Sonic Alert’s devices that he says “will wake the dead.”

By 1983, Kollin had a simple version of his phone system that was priced at $14.95. Radio Shack sold more than 250,000 units over a 10-year period.

“After my first meeting with Radio Shack, I had an order for 14,000 units,” Kollin recalls. “It turns out that the guy I was talking to had a deaf member of his family and saw the need for the product. Then, one day, there was a corporate decision to cut back on products and it was over.”

Five years into the Radio Shack contract, Sonic Alert had its first $1 million sales year. Last year, sales were $6 million.

Current products include alarm clocks offering a variety of features, and home-monitoring systems that scroll text across a screen rather than using flashing lights. “It’s fun coming up with the different things we want these products to do,” Kollin says.

The home-monitoring system checks itself each hour. “The more units you put in, the more robust the system,” he adds. “We put a lot of effort into making these things really safe. They’ll run for a week without power.”

On the horizon are products with even more capabilities, including additional sensors, cell phone controls, and a plug-in sensor unit rather than one that needs a cord, for bathroom and kitchen applications.

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