Ron Foxcroft was a referee with a whistle problem
Since an injury ended Ron’s football playing days at the age of 17, he gained satisfaction as a basketball referee. Eventually, refereeing became a very successful part-time career, in addition to his full-time job as President of a Hamilton, Ontario trucking company, Fluke Transport & Warehousing, which sports the famous slogan “If It’s On Time, It’s A Fluke.” Foxcroft was in demand around the world as a referee of professional and even Olympic basketball games, but he found himself frequently let down by his one piece of essential equipment.
“I always had a problem with whistles,” he explains. “They have a cork pea in them and when you blow a pea-whistle really hard, nothing comes out. When they’re frozen or wet or get some dirt inside, they lose their efficiency.” As a result, Foxcroft, like many other referees, sometimes found himself unable to stop play even though he saw a clear violation take place. In a fast-moving game like basketball, a whistle that fails does not get a second chance to sound. In a really big game, even when the whistle did work, the play occasionally was not stopped because the whistle’s sound was drowned out by the noise of the roaring crowds.
Although the occasional malfunctioning of small plastic whistles was hardly a problem likely to cripple professional basketball, it did hinder proper enforcement of the rules, not to mention causing referees such as Foxcroft embarrassment from time to time. On one particularly frustrating occasion, a crowd of 18,000 fans (a record at that time for basketball attendance in Canada) at the Montreal Olympic finals, booed and hissed at Foxcroft when a Yugoslavian player elbowed a U.S. team member and was not penalized. Foxcroft had seen the infraction and blown his whistle, but it had failed to sound!
The conception of the Fox 40 Pealess Whistle
Eventually, he decided it was up to him to improve the situation. He made a wish list of features for a better whistle, and Foxcroft showed it to a plastics moulding company in Stoney Creek, Ontario. They agreed to make parts for such a whistle if Foxcroft could present them with a design. They also recommended an Oakville, Ontario design consultant, Chuck Shepherd, who agreed to take on the project.
The first prototype Chuck produced was louder and more reliable than a pea-style whistle, but too large and awkward. Undaunted, Shepherd worked with Foxcroft through more than 14 prototypes before at last perfecting the Fox 40 pealess whistle. The Fox 40 whistle looked, felt and sounded very much like its predecessor, but worked on a very different principle. A pea-style whistle gets its shrill from the movement of the small cork pea in its interior, which alternately covers and uncovers the hole through which air is released. This process produces a rapid alternation of sound and silence, the characteristic whistle vibrato – until the pea gets stuck in the hole.
The Fox 40 Pealess Whistle is much like a harmonically-tuned instrument because it produces three slightly different frequencies simultaneously. The different frequencies are superimposed on one another out of phase, and thus alternately reinforce and cancel out each other. The result is a loud, piercing vibrato that has no moving parts to get stuck. The whistle is a plastic-moulded injection process that is ultrasonically welded together, rather than glued.