Author Topic: Ron Jones 48 Inventor and Entrepreneur of SongPro died in Feb. 2. 2004 (R.I.P)  (Read 3273 times)

Offline Afro Samurai

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WHEN Ronald L. Jones, an engineer and inventor, traveled from his home in Los Angeles to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas three years ago to seek backers for his product ideas, he was down to his last $800, and determined to make the trip fruitful.

A mutual acquaintance set up a meeting with a business developer, Mark A. Bush, that turned into an all-night conversation about technology and opportunity. "I saw this brilliant guy with this big heart," Mr. Bush said. But while Mr. Jones was a whiz with printed circuits, he had made less time for business plans or legal documents. "A lot of people took advantage of Ron's ideas," Mr. Bush said. "I said, man, we've got to get your paperwork so no one can steal your stuff."

And they talked specifically about one idea of Mr. Jones's: a way to turn a juggernaut of the electronics marketplace, Nintendo's Game Boy, into something more, not just a game machine but a portable music player as well. "When Ron first showed it to me," Mr. Bush said, "I said, wow, it's a great idea." He wrote an $11,000 check to help Mr. Jones with his personal finances, and the two became partners.

No one had broached Mr. Jones's idea to Nintendo, the Japanese game giant, which had largely resisted licensing other companies to produce Game Boy cartridges for anything other than games. But last month, Mr. Jones was back in Las Vegas - and his product was on the market.

"Listen - just listen to that," he implored as a listener donned headphones tethered to a $69 Game Boy Advance. "Sounds nice, right?"

The headphones boomed richly with a sampling of music as the Game Boy's three-inch color screen displayed digital images of the CD covers corresponding to each song. What made all this possible was Mr. Jones's creation, SongPro, a $99 two-inch-long cartridge that can be used to download music to be played on a Game Boy.

SongPro's journey to market involved a legal tangle with Nintendo, which had to be convinced that the idea was anything more than an infringement on its multimillion-dollar portable-gaming franchise. It also vaulted Mr. Jones and Mr. Bush, who are black, into the relatively insular world of high-tech entrepreneurs - a world in which few black technologists have become prominent.

"They had a lot of things working against them," said Vaughn Halyard, a former Disney senior executive involved in film, music and game development and production in Los Angeles who is a consultant for the Jones-Bush team. "People and institutions are always willing and ready to help black people and minorities consume. But it is out of character to consider truly empowering black people to invent. That's a whole different ball game." That Mr. Jones and Mr. Bush got their product to market, said Mr. Halyard, who is also black, "is testament to their determination."

Being an outsider is a role that Mr. Jones, 47, says he has had to play much of his life since growing up as a maid's son in the shadow of white wealth in Pacific Grove, Calif., on Monterey Bay. He said he was one of six black students in a high school of 1,400 students. He ironed clothes to earn money, and by the time he had saved enough to buy a bicycle, many classmates were already getting cars. "I cruised up to the school on a 10-speed," he said, "and these kids had Camaros."

Nonetheless, he enjoyed school, especially mathematics, in which he excelled. "I fell back on my family's principles," Mr. Jones recalled, which "told me that there is no monopoly on brains. Learn something."

He studied engineering at Monterey Peninsula College and San Jose State University before dropping out, he says, to learn engineering on the job.

Over the years he worked for I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard and Data General. In 1990 he founded Colossal Graphics in Palo Alto, working in large-format printing and desktop publishing. In 1999, Micro-Publishing News, a trade publication, named him Innovator of the Decade for his advances in large-format printing.

Even with that background, and a working prototype of his Game Boy idea, many potential investors were skeptical. And although Mr. Bush, who is 42, had had success as a business developer in Silicon Valley, he said that as an African-American representing a black-owned technology company to potential investors, he felt a double disadvantage.

"I would say that in 90 percent of the early parts of my presentations, the questions asked would always be, 'Who does this technology really belong to? Is this yours?' " he said. "Even my white colleagues understand that for me, it's difficult to get money."

Mr. Jones's background in printing, however, had helped him cement a relationship that proved crucial: a friendship with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He had printed placards for Mr. Jackson's organization, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, when it led rallies in California, he said. "When we were in trouble," he said of the period in which Nintendo was pressing his company to cease and desist with its product, "it was a natural to reach out to Reverend Jackson."

Butch Wing, director of the Silicon Valley Project for Rainbow/PUSH, intervened on Mr. Jones's behalf in 2000 to work out a crucial technology agreement with Nintendo. "We sought a dialogue and discussion with Nintendo representatives to seek a positive solution to the dispute," Mr. Wing said. "Nintendo was receptive to the dialogue."

Neither side will say much about how the discussion was framed or unfolded. But Perrin Kaplan, who is vice president for corporate affairs for Nintendo of Japan and is based in Redmond, Wash., said, "There is no conflict, and they are working with us."

Part of the agreement required the fledgling company to drop the name it proposed for the product, Song Boy. It did, and both the company and its product are officially known as SongPro.

By 2001, money had become so tight that Mr. Jones was shuttling between the homes of family members and friends, living, he said, on no more than $5 a day. "I had it all worked out," Mr. Jones recalled. "I'd know where all the best happy hour spots were and drive to them, buy a beer and eat for nothing."

Mr. Jones persevered, and by the 2002 Christmas season, the SongPro was ready for market. The system includes a 32-megabyte Flash memory card, headphones, music management software and a U.S.B. line to link it to any Internet-connected computer for music downloads. The cartridges read MP3 music files as well as those in Microsoft's popular WMA format. Song lyrics, CD covers and artist liner notes can be downloaded along with music from the SongPro site at Its technology prevents unauthorized copying. SongPro is sold online and at some electronic specialty stores, including Electronics Boutique. The first 7,000 produced went on sale shortly before Christmas, with a potential target market of 130 million Game Boys sold to date worldwide. The company has enlisted Nelly, the hip-hop artist, as its national spokesman.

Even now, as the company seeks additional financing for marketing, manufacturing and operations, Mr. Jones helps keep his costs low by shuttling between his sister's home in Los Angeles, near SongPro's office, and the maid's quarters at the home of a friend, Marc Hannah, a founder of Silicon Graphics and one of the richest black scientists in Silicon Valley.

Mr. Jones said his living space sometimes looked more like a factory floor than a bedroom, scattered with circuit boards and soldering guns.

Later this year, he said, the company plans to introduce a more expensive SongPro model capable of playing full video on Game Boy color screens, opening the way for downloading and viewing multimedia files like music videos or movie trailers on the go. The company, which has five employees, is also preparing enhancements to the technology that will allow files to be transferred from PC to Game Boy wirelessly.

What helped sustain him during the worst of times, Mr. Jones said, was a conviction that he had invented and engineered a great technology, and his faith in something he learned as a teen-ager. "Life is an open-book test," he said. "People can help you if you ask the questions. On these two premises, no one can stop you."


African American inventor and talented innovator Ron Jones, co-founder and Chairman of SongPro Inc., the first African American owned portable digital multimedia device manufacturer in history, succumbed to gastric cancer Monday, Feb. 2. 2004 He was 48 years old.


Wow, what an excellent man. I hope his nieces and nephews continue on with his dream. He was psp, today cellphones & ipod touch b4 they even existed. He paved the way & they should give thanks to him.  & Nintendo as well!!!!!!!!!

Offline Mastrmynd

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great piece of black history Afro.
thanks for sharing.
i never heard of this...shucks, i am not even sure i've heard of SongPro.

Listen to my entertaining radio show, "The Takeover: Top 20 Countdown" at

Right on to the real and death to the fakers!  Peace out!

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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I believe I met this brother. 

Offline Vic Vega

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I remember reading about this device.

The poor guy has to fight Nintendo in the courts when all he was trying to do was give folks a reason to hold onto thier Gameboys after they outgrew the young skewing games.

It should have been a win-win.

As it was I've only heard of the device and have nevr seen one in person.

Had they tried to work with the guy earlier who knows how it could have done.