Happy Birthday...Sorta

by Frank Hammel
in Editor's Note
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine

No, it’s not my birthday, but exactly five years ago this month, I got an unexpected phone call from FRONT of HOUSE publisher Terry Lowe. It went something like this. “Hey George… Terry Lowe here. Do you want to run FRONT of HOUSE magazine?” My reply was “Sure.” That probably amounted to one of the shortest job interviews of all time.

Not that it entirely came out of the blue. I had come off a three-decade tenure doing editorial at Mix magazine, and Terry and I had previously worked together there, before he set off on his own to found PLSN and FOH.

I wasn’t exactly a newcomer to sound reinforcement. My dad worked for NATO and I grew up in Italy as a kid, where I caught the rock ‘n’ roll bug (yeah, the “Summer of Love”), touring, playing in bands and “doing” sound gigs, remember it wasn’t exactly called “FOH mixing” back then. I became well-acquainted with leading Italian brands, such as RCF and FBT (along with Meazzi, Davoli and Eko) and experienced the early pleasures of Shure Vocal Master and Altec A7 Voice of the Theater speakers.

Coming to America for college, I wanted to play in bands and do club sound, but at 18, I couldn’t work in a bar — a shock to me coming from a country that had no drinking age. But as the typical broke college student, I took every type of freelance job, at places like San Francisco’s Harry McCune sound (while John Meyer was there) and ditto at Oakland’s Swanson Sound, occasionally working with the great Cal Perkins, but also “doing sound” (there’s that term again) for Black Panther rallies — another of my regular clients.

I also had an unglamorous, but steady gig in the local college AV department, endlessly repairing gear that students or staff had trashed. Once that disappeared (budget cuts), I dropped by the IATSE union local #169 office, talked to a guy there who gave me test on electronics, which I aced, and I started off as a union projectionist working nights showing films at local bijous. My regular routine was three nights at a Mexican cinema, a drive-in, a porno shift for the Mitchell Brothers, and occasional one-offs at the Oakland Coliseum, Paramount Theatre, etc. No glamour there.

Known as the “sound guy,” I’d get sent out on theater repair calls — mostly on vintage RCA and Altec systems, but when Star Wars hit in 1977, optical Dolby Stereo (actually LCRS) was the rage and I suddenly had boatloads of install work. I continued doing repair calls — some of which were very funny. I got a frantic call one morning from a theater that had no sound at all. I grabbed my toolbox, headed out, and on arrival, walked towards the screen. I ignored the manager, who called me an idiot and pointed to the upstairs projection booth. Pulling back the curtain, I could see a cut speaker wire dangling from the attic above a spot where the Altec A7 had been, before someone stole it after the show the night before. I happened to have a couple stage wedges in my car and hooked them up as a temporary fix. Problem solved.

Another time it was a “muffled sound” complaint. I grabbed an Altec 808 driver, a couple spare diaphragms and headed out. I soon confirmed it was an HF problem and asked the manager if he had a wire coat hanger. He thought I was crazy until I fashioned a hook, and fished out a huge rat that somehow got stuck and died in the horn throat. Moral: When there’s an audio problem, check the easy stuff first.

I have million more of these stories, but eventually I had enough college degrees (working theaters at night let me become a permanent student by day) and I wanted something a little more regular. I started writing for various magazines and well… the story eventually leads up to here.

Life’s Good!

Sound reinforcement is an exciting and vibrant industry — and this is a great time for the business at large. Perhaps not so much if your stock-in-trade is rack-mount graphic equalizers, but every sector of audio production continues to leap forward. Tablet mixing — almost an anomaly five years ago — is now an almost required part of any sound gig, whether on a huge mega-console or on one of the mini powerhouses profiled in the Buyer’s Guide on page 40. Plug-ins (such as those spotlighted by Steve La Cerra on page 49) bring every possible tool to the fingertips of the audio engineer, and the “I wish I had a couple more compressors” compromises disappeared a long time ago. Want that vintage gear sound? Adding a Fairchild or some LA-2A’s is no further than your iLok or console menu.

Today, from the viewpoint of venues, the installation and upgrade market is booming, with new house of worship, club, sports facility and theater/performing arts spaces projects on the rise, with some recent examples of the latter on page 32. The bottom line is that the industry is looking up on every front — from new product launches at NAMM to the upcoming USITT, Prolight+Sound and InfoComm shows — to optimism indicated by a recent reader survey. (More on that next month.) And for all of us here at FRONT of HOUSE, we’re proud to be part of your family and here’s to many more great years.

For George Petersen's video intro to the March 2017 issue of FRONT of HOUSE Magazine, go to http://www.fohonline.com/main-news/16211