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Genius!2: Bill Putnam Sr. and the studio #16

The founder of Universal Audio was the first engineer to use artificial reverberation in commercial recording

The achievements of audio engineer, studio designer, producer and Universal Audio founder Bill Putnam Sr would be difficult to summarise in 3,000 words, let alone a mere 300. His credentials as a studio pioneer began to be cemented as early as the late 1940s when he founded one of the first independent studios in the US, Chicago’s Universal Recording, and United Recording and Western Recorders in Hollywood. United Recording was sold to business partner Allen Sides in 1983 and was renamed Ocean Way.

On the R&D side, the initial tube console that Putnam designed for Western Recorders is often cited as the first modern recording console. In 1958 he founded Universal Audio, later renaming it United Recording Electronics Industries, or UREI. Also emerging from his busy lab was the first US multi-band audio equaliser and iconic recording equipment such as the UREI 1176LN Classic Limiting Amplifier and UREI Time Align Monitor. He was the first engineer to use artificial reverberation in commercial recording and, along with his friend Les Paul, played an important role in the early development of stereophonic recording.

Equally at home in the studio in artistic ‘mode’, Putnam was involved with landmark sessions by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Little Walter and Dinah Washington, among other pivotal artists.

Putnam passed away in California in 1989, at the age of 69, but ten years later Universal Audio was refounded by his sons, James Putnam and Bill Putnam Jr. They had two main goals: to faithfully reproduce classic analogue recording equipment in the tradition of their father; and to design new digital recording tools with the sound and spirit of vintage analogue technology. The company remains a vital force in the development of studio equipment.

The classic photo: Putnam recording Sinatra

Published earlier this year and sponsored by QSC Audio, Genius!2 is the second edition of Genius!, celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. The 30-page supplement is also available to read in a handy digital-edition form