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Blog: Entertainment Was Forever Changed by a Redwood City Man

Ray Dolby was a 1951 graduate of Sequoia High School

For decades video and audio recordings were plagued with sound imperfections. One of the most persistent issues was a hissing sound.

Enter Mr. Ray Dolby….

He established himself in the recording industry at Ampex Corporation by playing a key role in the development of the first quadruplex video tape recorder which was released in 1956.

A student at Stanford and Cambridge, Dolby served as a technical consultant for the United Nations in India until 1965. At that point, he returned to England and founded Dolby Laboratories. That same year he announced the invention of Dolby Noise Reduction, which was used primarily on analog tape recorders. 

The first major recording label to use his invention was Decca Records in England.

Without getting too technical, it works by compressing and increasing the volume of low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and correspondingly reversing the process during playback. The result of this complex engineering process is a noticeable reduction of hissing.

Having pioneered this revolutionary sound improvement on audio recordings, Dolby turned his eyes toward the film industry.

While the technical aspects of sound in the film industry presented a different set of challenges, the net result still resulted in substantial hissing. 

The first film with Dolby’s new invention was A Clockwork Orange, released in 1971. He kept improving the technology, and the first film with a Dolby-encoded optical soundtrack was a 1974 British film called Callan.

The 1976 film A Star is Born introduced the first true LCRS (Left-Center-Right-Surround) soundtrack. At this point over 6,000 movie theaters were using Dolby’s invention.

The next step was true digital surround sound for cinemas. Eventually called Dolby Digital, the 1992 film Batman Returns was the debut film for his latest advancement. Dolby Digital became a staple for numerous other formats, including DVD players, HDTV, and many cable and satellite receivers. 

His awards include 2 Oscars, 1 Emmy, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee, Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame inductee, Television Hall of Fame inductee, Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

The quality of sound in the world of entertainment was forever changed by Ray Dolby, who was a 1951 graduate of Sequoia High School.

Dolby died in 2013, however, his invention lives on in virtually every form of audio and video entertainment. The next time you listen to an audio recording, go to the theater, watch TV or play a DVD, thank a Sequoia graduate for the sound quality.

Everything else is just history

Some of the photos used in this blog are courtesy of the Local History Room, Redwood City's best-kept secret. The Local History Collection covers all aspects of Redwood City's development, from the 1850s to the present day, with particular emphasis on businesses, public schools, civic organizations, city agencies, and early family histories. The Local History Room is not affiliated with the Redwood City Public Library, but it is inside it. 

Dan Calic

About the Author: Dan Calic

A product of Goodwin (JFK), Henry Ford, Roosevelt, Sequoia High and Canada College, Dan has deep Redwood City roots. He’s witnessed Redwood City transform from a sleepy peninsula town into a thriving high-tech hub.
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