During James Stoffo’s career as an RF technician/frequency coordinator he’s worked a considerable list of some of the biggest events on the planet, including multiple Super Bowls, NBA All-Star games, and the Grammys to name a few, as well as huge corporate affairs.
He’s also provided consultation for clients running the gamut from Disney World to Microsoft, and is a serial entrepreneur in having founded Professional Wireless Systems (PWS) in 1994 and Radio Active Designs (RAD) in 2014.
On top of all that, Stoffo is a tireless advocate for arts, entertainment and culture in general; specifically in response to the challenges created by RF spectrum auctions and the increasing use of digital consumer/whitespace devices that share radio spectrum with other wireless technology – technology that is not only used in sporting and musical events, but also in nuclear facilities and military installations.
Stoffo’s recent focus is building RAD, a manufacturing firm focusing exclusively on wireless intercom (com) technology co-founded by he, Geoff Shearing and Henry Cohen, and created with an eye to manufacturing wireless intercom solutions that can combat growing RF congestion and the ongoing impact of spectrum auctions. That focus also allows the company to avoid going head to head with wireless microphone manufacturers.
“By coming up with wireless intercoms, we have an impact on the spectral congestion that affects microphones while ticking off the fewest amount of people,” he notes with a laugh. “Over half of the frequencies on the shows I work are dedicated to wireless intercoms, so I figured that if we create products that work outside the wireless microphone band the mics will have a better chance of working, too.”
Essentially, stepping on the toes of colleagues in the pro audio is the last thing the 54-year-old wants to do in what he describes as “potentially” the final chapter in his career.
Coms have been Stoffo’s main focus throughout his professional life, beginning in the 1980s when he served as a communications radio surveillance technician in the U.S. Navy submarine service. But his passion for radio goes much farther back, all the way to his youth growing up on Staten Island, NY.
“My grandfather and father were both RF people, and Coney Island was where my grandfather had his lab,” he recalls. “When I was six he had me hold a couple of antennas and proceeded to cook my hands until I dropped them. I thought, ‘Wow. That’s cool. I need to learn about that when I get old’.”
It wasn’t until high school that he could get formal training in electronics and radio, and he did so in classes normally reserved for seniors. Immediately after graduating, he joined the Navy because, as he puts it: “I just wanted to go on a submarine.
“The ocean has always been my passion,” he continues. “RF and the ocean cover probably 90 percent of my interests. Music would be third. And I wanted to learn about electronics, but financially couldn’t do college. I figured getting into the Navy and getting free training was a sure-fire way to do that.”
Between 1980 and 1986 Stoffo’s time was split between training at various military institutions – including electronic surveillance training at Pearl Harbor – and operational duties as a crew member on a fast attack sub based on the Pacific coast.
“We’d take off from San Diego, go to Pearl Harbor and do special operations. It was the Cold War at that point, so primarily we’d follow around Soviet ships and subs and sit off the coast of places I can’t talk about.”
He was, he asserts, not a SEAL, but the Navy was where he learned to dive: “I got certified in 1983, and that was on the SEAL team base, which is probably where the confusion is, but I didn’t shoot anybody. I was trained to save people.”
His role on subs was multi-faceted. “The depth you’re at dictates your job,” he explains. “On the surface I was the boat’s rescue diver, standing topside in my wetsuit, mask, fins and snorkel. If somebody fell overboard I was expected to rescue them. If we were submerged I was a helmsman and drove the submarine. Then, when we were at periscope depth, I was a radio surveillance technician.”