Ampex History Project

Larry Miller, Project Leader

What is it?

This is a subset of the AES HC Oral History Project. It was requested due to interest of Ampex “Old-Timers” and as a way to “kick off” release of some of the Oral History Project material while people are still around to be interested (especially those who designed and used the equipment).
It is in addition to, not instead of, the ongoing Oral History Project effort to produce archive recordings of Audio Pioneers. It seems to be a nicely self-contained sub-project, especially since most of the interviewees are still located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why do an Ampex History?

Enthusiasm of participants and desire to get a definitive, “Myth-free” Company History.  Ampex and Hewlett-Packard were the first major players in what has come to be known as “Silicon Valley”.
At one time, nearly every engineer in the Bay Area had worked for one of these companies. Ampex is an “Historical Company” that should not be relegated to a footnote as later companies became dominant.
We have a unique collection of memorabilia (Stanford collection) and memories (Oral History interviewees) to put together a (hopefully) interesting narrative. Ampex still has an active “following” in the audio community; many machines are still in revenue service and many more are cherished collector/audiophile items.


At this time, scope of this project is limited to emphasis on very early Ampex history, and, generally, history of Ampex professional audio.
It concentrates (so far) on the earliest Ampex products: The Model 200A, the Model 201, and the Model 300.
It also concentrates on the founders of the Company and their stories. General cutoff at present is 1960-61.

Organization (Participants)

Project Leader: Larry Miller
Helpers: Ross Snyder (now deceased), John Leslie, Jay McKnight
Reviewers: Pete Hammar, Howard Sanner, Bill Wray


Produce set of Oral History Videos from Ampex Engineers

Newer or additional videos from selected personnel

John Leslie, Myron Stolaroff, and the Group Recording 2001 December with Early Ampexers Pete Hammar (MC), John Leslie, Walter Selsted, Frank Lennert, Robby Smits and Ross Snyder.

Use of Oral History Project videos

Use 14 existing Oral History videotapes of Ampex people: Bill Cara, Eric Daniel, Mort Fujii, Bob Langevin, Dale Manquen, Jay McKnight,  Larry Miller, Bob Morrison, Rein Narma, Fred Pfost, David Sarser, Walter Selsted, Ross Snyder, and Al Sroka.

Release Medium: DVDs to be sold through AES

These oral histories are personal portraits of the people: their story as they remember it. There are inconsistencies between 50-year-old memories, but that is the nature of histories.

Make a written History of Early Ampex based on the recollections of these people, in these oral histories.

In this case, we would attempt to get historical accuracy, based on correlation of following resources:
Above videos,
Written papers by Myron Stolaroff, Harold Lindsay, and Peter Hammar:

Harold Lindsay and Myron Stolaroff, "Magnetic Tape Recorder of Broadcast Quality", Audio Engineering, 1948 Oct, p 13.

Myron J. Stolaroff, "Low-Cost Precision Magnetic Recorder for Professional Use", Audio Engineering, 1949 Aug, pp. 17, 18, 30.

Harold W. Lindsay "Precision Magnetic Tape Recorder for High Fidelity Professional Use", Electrical Manufacturing, 1950 Oct, p. 134.

Harold Lindsay, "Magnetic Recording, Part 1", db Magazine, Vol 11, Nr 12, pp 38...44 (1977 December). History and development of the Ampex Model 200A. [5 references]
Harold Lindsay, "Magnetic Recording, Part 2", db Magazine, Vol 12, Nr 1, pp 40...44 (1978 January). More on the Ampex Model 200A. History and development of the Models 300, 3200 (duplicator), Todd-AO, consumer products, 4-track stereo tapes, multichannel recorders, acquisition of "Irish tape", and ATR-100. [18 references]

Peter Hammar and Don Ososke, "The Birth of the German Magnetophon Tape Recorder 1928...1945", db Magazine, Vol 16, Nr 3, Cover photo, pp 47...52 (1982 March).
Peter Hammar, "In Memoriam: Harold Lindsay", AES Journal Vol 30, Nr 9, pp 691, 692 (1982 Sept).

Peter Hammar, "Jack Mullin: The Man and His Machines", AES Journal,  Vol 37, Issue 6, pp 490...512 (1989)
An illustrated review of "The John T Mullin Collection: The History of Sound Recording", as exhibited at the 85th AES Convention in Los Angeles, in 1988 November. The early history of magnetic recording is summarized, then Mullin's involvement with bringing the German Magnetophon to the US, demonstrating it to US engineers, and working with Bing Crosby and with Ampex.

The Ampex “Fact Book”
Other contemporary publications
Physical evidence


Video Recordings

We have in hand several videos listed above

Newer or additional videos from selected personnel

John Leslie, Myron Stolaroff, Group Recording 2001 December with Early Ampexers: Pete Hammar (MC), John Leslie, Walter Selsted, Frank Lennert, Robby Smits, Ross Snyder

We are collecting copies of the other videos. John K. Chester has made and delivered digital dubs of the 14 Oral History Project Interviewees listed:
Bill Cara, Eric Daniel, Mort Fujii, Bob Langevin, Dale Manquen, Jay McKnight, Larry Miller, Bob Morrison, Rein Narma, Fred Pfost, David Sarser, Walter Selsted, Ross Snyder, and Al Sroka.
We may re-do a few of them at request of interviewees.
We may add to the list.

Written History

"History of the Early Days of Ampex Corporation", by John Leslie and Ross Snyder

Transcripts of Oral History Tapes

We have the John Leslie interview already transcribed by Chuck Booye, at MRL.

The 2001 December Hammar group was about half transcribed, also by Chuck Booye

These two interviews served as the basis of a written history. The history was be prepared by John Leslie in collaboration with the late Ross Snyder, based on the transcriptions and other resources. Jay McKnight and Bill Wray provided editorial services

Larry Miller will attempt to produce a “rectified” Time Line Excel spread sheet to aid in reconciling detail differences.

Larry Miller will also write an addendum to the Leslie paper which details the operations at Ampex Audio in Sunnyvale. (Ampex Professional Audio was relocated to Sunnyvale in about 1961 to take advantage of the large common parts inventory and manufacturing methods used in both professional and early consumer product lines.)

2010-09-24 lm, --10-14 jm

AES - Audio Engineering Society