Spotlight on Nautel Founder Dennis Covill


In November, 2012 Nautel founder Dennis Covill was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada* for his contribution to engineering and science. A pioneer in the transmitter industry, Covill used revolutionary technologies to design transmitters with smaller footprints, capabilities for redundancy, hot-swapping of modules, and other technologies now considered “basic” to the transmitter industry. Here’s the story behind how Covill created a culture of engineering excellence at Nautel, now one of the world’s leading companies in its field.

300px-Colossus Born in England, Covill developed an early love for math and science. He began building simple radio receivers in his early teens and vividly remembers his introduction to broadcasting when he first saw a live television picture on display at the Radiolympia radio show in 1938.

After grammer school, Covill apprenticed in the Circuit Laboratory at London’s General Post Office telephone branch analyzing and solving difficult telecommunications problems. From there, he worked on a highly classified project at the Dollis Hill Research Station with Tommy Flowers, the creative genious behind Colossus; the computer which deciphered Hitler’s messages to high-ranking officers in World War II.

When Canada beckoned with adventure, opportunity and wide-open spaces, Covill moved his family and eventually settled in Halifax working for Cossar Canada designing equipment to send radio signals into the ionosphere. After 14 years there Covill started his own business, Nautel, in 1969 doing custom research and development in marine and aeronautical electronics. Although he didn’t have a specific product in mind he knew that he wanted to invent custom solutions – something Nautel continues to excel at today.

Shortly after he started the company the Canadian government branch responsible for aeronautical and navigational aids placed an open tender for high-powered radio beacons with preference to be given to a solid-state design if it were possible. While everyone else on the tender claimed solid-state was not possible, Covill offered an innovative solid-state design that would be both cost-effective and never wear out. He won the contract and one year later, the world’s first high-powered, solid-state radio beacon passed its lab tests. “My team of engineers and I were thrilled and very proud when the tests were successful,” Covill recalls.

Photo (circa 1969/1970): front row left to right – Dennis Covill, John Pinks, David Grace.

Nautel-Dennis-Covill-1980s From this first breakthrough, Nautel’s engineering team proceeded to use the same technology in other fields; including AM and FM broadcasting, RF amplifiers for use in space, and most recently television broadcasting. Today, Nautel is considered one of the world’s leading companies in the field and has more than 12,000 solid-state transmitters deployed in over 177 countries including such harsh climates as tropical jungles, the Arctic and desert.

“Dennis Covill is a true pioneer in RF engineering and the transmitter business, and we are deeply honored to be associated with him,” said Peter Conlon, Nautel President and CEO. “He set in motion a company that has amazing values, both in terms of quality and in its philosophy of daily operations. Although he has now retired from Nautel, his values live on in our designs and the way we conduct our business. His receipt of the Order of Canada membership is richly deserved.”

Photo: Dennis Covill pictured with a solid-state AMPFET25 AM broadcast transmitter in 1987.

* The Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, was established in 1967 to
“recognize a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to community and service to the nation.”

Phinney, Sandra (2004). Risk Takers and Innovators: Great Canadian Business Ventures since 1950. James Lorimer & Company Ltd.

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