During my three plus decades working in the film and broadcast industries, I was privileged to meet and work with several brilliant people. For me, brilliant people are normally engineers. I love the world of engineers. One of those brilliant people that I met several times was Ray Dolby. Ray is famous worldwide for his inventions in the audio world. His brand from Dolby Laboratories is respected in the audio, television, film, and consumer electronics businesses.
A mutual friend, Tim Prouty, of Graham-Patten Systems, an audio equipment manufacturer from Grass Valley, California first introduced me to Ray in Los Angeles at a Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) conference in the early 80s. Tim had worked for Ray for many years before joining Graham-Patten. He led the sales for the GPS post-production audio mixers that I sold in Canada as a part of high-end television edit suites in those days. We were good friends with shared interests in sailing boats. Tim sailed with me here on Lake Ontario when he visited Toronto on business trips.
I served on the Board of the Toronto Chapter of the SMPTE for 16 years. So, whenever Tim and I connected at a major SMPTE event, we enjoyed drinks or a dinner to catch up. At one of these events, held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown LA in October-November 1983, I met up with Tim as we planned to go to dinner after the formalities ended. I had briefly met Ray a year or two prior at an industry coffee gathering, but I could not say that I new him, Anyways, there he was again chatting with Tim, who was patiently waiting for me in the lobby to depart for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. The three of us talked about Ray having just received the prestigious SMPTE Progress Medal earlier that day. The Progress Medal, instituted in 1935, is SMPTE’s oldest and most prestigious medal, and awarded annually for contributions to engineering aspects of the film and/or television industries. Ray was that year’s recipient.
Tim invited Ray to join us for dinner and off the three of went to eat and talk. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to spend some quality time with the world famous Ray Dolby. Of course, it was fun to be with my buddy Tim too. We discussed sailing, cars, and airplanes. Funny enough, not much was talked about audio that evening. I was in love with all things aviation and held a lifelong dream to be a pilot. Ray shared my enthusiasm for flying too. He later went on to learn to fly in 1990 and I started my training in 2009. Both of us learned to fly later in life in our 50s, so not the normal profile for a pilot.
Of course, I had to hear about Ray’s early work in television as he is one of the principle engineers who helped to create the first video tape machines. During 1949-52, he worked on various audio and instrumentation projects at Ampex Corporation, and during 1952-57 he was mainly responsible for the development of the electronic aspects of the Ampex videotape recording system.
While the patents state that Ray and his Ampex colleagues invented the first video recorder in April of 1956, it actually went into service at CBS’s Television City on September 6, 1956, which happens to be the date of my birth. So, I have always held the romantic notion that I was preordained to be working in the broadcasting industry because of this trivia fact, and here I was sharing pasta with the father of video.
In 1957, Ray received a B.S. degree from Stanford University, and upon being awarded a Marshall Scholarship and a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship, he left Ampex for further study at Cambridge University in England. He received a Ph.D. degree in physics from Cambridge in 1961, and was elected a Fellow of Pembroke College (Honorary Fellow, 1983). During his last year at Cambridge, he was also a consultant to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.
In 1963, Dolby took up a two-year appointment as a UNESCO advisor in India, then returned to England in 1965 to establish Dolby Laboratories in London. In 1976 he moved to San Francisco, where his company established further offices, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities. He held more than 50 U.S. patents, and had written papers on videotape recording, long wavelength X-ray analysis, and of course, noise reduction for which he was mostly known for – Dolby NR.
He was a fellow and past president of the Audio Engineering Society, and a recipient of its Silver and Gold Medal Awards. He was also a fellow of the British Kinematograph, Sound, and Television Society and an Honorary Member of The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, which in the past has also awarded him its Samuel L. Warner Memorial Award, Alexander M. Poniatoff Gold Medal, and the aforementioned Progress Medal. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted him a Scientific and Engineering Award in 1979 and an Oscar in 1989, when he was also presented an Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 1986, Dolby was made an honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). In 1997, Dolby received the U.S. National Medal of Technology, the IEEE’s Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award, and the American Electronic Association’s Medal of Achievement. That year he also received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Cambridge University, and in 1999 was awarded an honorary Doctor of the University degree by the University of York. So, it is safe to say that Ray’s impact on the media industry was extensive.
When Ray Dolby founded Dolby Laboratories in 1965, movies and television featured only one channel of sound, and record producers were limited to a handful of audio tracks. Much of what happened since then to improve the sound of entertainment can be traced to the efforts of Ray Dolby – not just his technical innovations but the impact they had on artists.
Since 1965, thousands of films and billions of products have featured Dolby® technologies.
Ray Dolby died on September 12, 2013, in San Francisco at the age of 80.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored the late Ray Dolby with the 2,540th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today, Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 11:30 a.m. PST. The star in the category of Motion Pictures was dedicated in front of The Dolby Theatre at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard. “We are very happy to add acclaimed Dolby sound system engineer and inventor Ray Dolby to the Walk of Fame,” stated Leron Gubler, President/CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “Everyone in the world has experienced the most amazing audio emanating from film screens around the world. Ray Dolby is part of our cinematic history and we are proud to add his star to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
Helping emcee and Hollywood Chamber President/CEO Leron Gubler to unveil the star were Sid Ganis, Francis Ford Coppola, and Mrs. Dagmar Dolby.
Uncredited. (2015). Ray Dolby. Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved on November 19, 2019 from, https://www.walkoffame.com/ray-dolby
Uncredited. (2019). Ray Dolby: Inventing the Future of Entertainment. Dolby Laboratories. Retrieved on November 19, 2019 from, https://www.dolby.com/us/en/about/leadership/ray-dolby.html
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.