The word iconic is used a lot in broadcast to describe the Paleys and the Sarnoffs who molded the business side of the industry. On the technical side of that equation, the name perhaps most deserving of the term is Dolby, as in Ray Dolby, whose name has become synonymous with excellence in broadcast-audio technology.
Dolby founded Dolby Laboratories in 1965 in London. The then-32-year-old Portland, OR, native had earned a Ph.D. degree at Cambridge, atop his degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, further adding to a massive knowledge base he had acquired working on audio and instrumentation projects for Ampex, where, from 1952 to 1957, he was largely responsible for development of the electronic aspects of the Ampex videotape recording system.
In 1976, Dolby moved the rapidly expanding Dolby Labs to San Francisco, where it established offices, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities. From there, Ray Dolby proceeded to elevate the quality of broadcast sound via a constantly innovative stream of new products.
Starting with Dolby Nose Reduction, which made analog tape a viable medium for high-performance audio, Dolby racked up invention after invention, which translated into products that became critical to advancing the state of the art of broadcast sound. Among these products are Dolby SR, a professional four-channel noise-reduction system that improved the dynamic range of analog recordings and transmission; Dolby E, the professional coding system optimized for distribution of surround and multichannel audio through digital two-channel postproduction and broadcasting infrastructures; the Dolby Digital codec, also known as AC3, which enabled discrete 5.1 broadcast audio, is supported by all major broadcast formats, and is incorporated into the DVD and Blu-ray technical standards; the Dolby Pro Logic series of codecs; such products as the LM100, used to accurately monitor and measure loudness; and, most recently, Dolby Atmos, introduced in 2012, which distributes audio through as many as 128 discrete sound tracks and up to 64 unique speaker feeds.
Dolby Digital 5.1, chosen for digital-TV broadcasting in 1995, brought sports broadcasting into the realm of discrete-5.1-surround audio when it debuted on ABC’s Monday Night Football in 1999. The network carried the entire 1999-2000MNF schedule with Dolby Digital 5.1, concluding with Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta.
“Ray was always very supportive of broadcast,” says Tim Carroll, president of Linear Acoustic, “but what I always found amazing was that, aside from building a business, Ray was also always concerned with the people who create [film and television] programs. In designing technology products, he first and foremost wanted to make sure that technology never got in their way.”
Carroll, who worked at Dolby for seven years starting in 1995, says Ray Dolby inspired him to strike out on his own. “It was the best job I ever had, and it’s where he inspired me and many others to always wonder what was the next thing we could do to help make the industry better. Certainly, that’s what Dolby has done with surround for sports-broadcast audio.”
Heading into his fifth decade of innovation and invention, Ray Dolby personally holds more than 50 patents and has been recognized with awards including the U.S. National Medal of Technology, the Scientific and Engineering Academy Award of Merit from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development. He has also been enshrined in both the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.