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50 Years Later, AES Session Will Recall FM Stereo Cutover

Engineers and equipment designers will talk about FM stereo’s birth in the U.S.

Several sessions at the AES show in New York this month will explore topics related to streaming, which unquestionably has had a huge impact on the technology and business of radio.

But one notable gathering also will look back, at a time when another method of radio content distribution was very much in the news.

Fifty years ago — June 1, 1961 — the first U.S. stations activated 38 kHz subcarriers and rolled out stereo broadcasting with equipment that had just received FCC type approval. While those broadcasts lasted only a few hours, the FM stereo era was born.

David Bialik, who organizes broadcast and streaming sessions for the U.S. AES conventions and who co-chairs this session with Scott Fybush, told me he’d been talking with the late audio innovator Emil Torick for a couple of years about offering such a session. Torick suggested Bialik wait until this 50th anniversary year.

Engineers and equipment designers will talk about FM stereo’s birth; the competing systems that sought FCC approval; the technical challenges faced by the new medium; development of high-density FM audio processing; and the future of analog FM stereo.

Taking part will be Richard Burden, who served on the technical standards committee that chose the winning system; Frank Foti of Omnia Audio; Richard Mertz of Cavell and Mertz; Arno Meyer of Belar; Robert Orban of Orban; Skip Pizzi of NAB; Bill Sacks of Orban; Eric Small of Modulation Sciences; and Jeff Smith of Clear Channel. I suspect Emil Torick will be there in spirit.

The session is Friday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Note that it will be held in the PC Richard & Sons Theater at the Clear Channel studios, 32 Avenue of the Americas, in New York. (“How can I celebrate 50 years of FM stereo in one of the few spots in New York where you can’t hear FM?” Bialik asked with a laugh, referring to the Javits Center, where most of the convention is taking place. The Clear Channel facility is appropriate for another reason: It is home to the most FM studios located under one roof in the city.)

By the way, if you happen to have any recordings, advertisements or other materials about stations cutting over to stereo in the early 1960s, Bialik would love to hear from you. Email [email protected].