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TalkBack | Letters to Mix, September 2010

Read Mix Readers Letters to the Editor, September 2010 issue

Taking nothing away from Bobby McFerrin’s talent, there’s another lesser-known reason for the widespread success of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (“Classic Tracks,” July 2010 issue). At the time of the release of Simple Pleasures, EMI Manhattan was pushing it to jazz stations. The assistant program director of what was then New York City’s only contemporary jazz station, WNEW-AM (that would be me), shared living quarters with the assistant music director at arguably the most important Top 40 station in the country, Z-100 (that would be my sister), who promptly brought it to the attention of program director Scott Shannon. And the rest is history.

—Anita Bonita

I just discovered Walter Sear had passed away and it made me think of a story that began with reading a Mix article [“N.Y. Metro,” February 2003] about Sear Sound.

I like to go to swap meets, garage sales looking for any type of musical gear or equipment. I sat down at NAMM one year and talked at length with [Mix executive editor] George Petersen about the great scores made by scouring the flea markets, which he also enjoys. So about a year or so after reading that article, I’m at the local swap meet and spot this old piece of tube gear in a pile of stuff—big VU meter in the center, a couple knobs and a switch or two. As I looked at it closer, I realized it was an old audio limiter. In fact, it was a Federal Television Co./U.S. Army Signal Corps. AM-864/U vintage mono vari-Mu tube limiter. I thought, “I’ve got to make a deal before someone else sees it!” So the seller said, “That’s an audio compressor, not sure if it works.” “Okay, how much were you thinking for it?” “$10,” he replied. Oh my! I was going for my wallet as fast as I could without seeming too excited, but then his girlfriend pipes in, “But if you take it now, it’s only $5.” I forked over the $5 and walked away with a huge smile on my face and a great find.

When I took it home and tried to get it going, it would pass audio but no compression/limiting would occur. Still a great score! I looked around for schematics but was having trouble coming up with them. Then I remembered in that Mix article, one of his engineers had said, “Walter has these weird compressors around that were made for the Army. We like to use on snare.” “Hmm, it’s worth a try,” I thought, so I looked up the studio and found an e-mail address. So I wrote and to my surprise, I was answered almost immediately by Walter himself.

We e-mailed back and forth a few times in regard to the AM-864, and he explained, “I have about five of those around here that we’ve made work much better in the studio environment. My engineer guys have worked up mods to make them even more usable for recording,” So I asked him if he might send me a copy of the schematic. “Sure, just send me your address and I’ll mail them to you,” he wrote. I did, and sure enough, a couple days later I get the big manila envelope addressed from Walter and inside is not only the original schematics, but copies of all the hand-written mods and upgrades incorporated into his AM-864s

I immediately e-mailed him back and thanked him, expressing my gratitude and wanting to compensate him for his time and trouble. I mean I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this! Walter wrote me back, and said, “Never a charge for information.”

I have never forgotten that act of kindness and personal attention from a man who may have just as well told me to go jump in a lake somewhere. Walter was a class act with no other goal than to promote knowledge of the art of recording and electronics, and to strive for the best in everything audio and not settle. He deeply understood what so many today either don’t bother to learn or take for granted. A die-hard advocate of quality. Since then, I have had the compressor repaired and the modifications Walter gave me performed. Beautiful! I would never have gotten it to this state if I hadn’t reached out for some help from Walter and he hadn’t been so graciously and selflessly willing to help out someone he’d never even met before or knew. Walter, you will be greatly missed by all who knew you.
—Brian Hutchison
Lunatech Studio (Seattle)

I am deeply saddened to hear about the death of one of my mentors and dear friends, Bill Porter. Bill and I had been in touch with each other on a regular basis for many years, until about five to seven years ago when we lost touch. I knew he was in St. Louis years ago after leaving teaching audio at the Univeresity of Miami. He taught master classes at my college, Trebas Institute (Toronto and Montreal). A number of music industry educators and other persons have been asking me about Bill; unfortunately, I could not give any positive response.

He was a very inspirational human being with a great heart, always available to help a person in need. He was particularly close to and available for consultation with any students of audio, always willing to share his knowledge and expertise. He worked hard to establish standards of excellence in music industry and recording education through the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association (founded in Nashville in 1979), which is where I first met Bill in 1979, as MEIEA was being formed. It was an honor for me to be elected VP of MEIEA for the first two years of its operation (’79-’81) and president from 1982-’84. This happened largely due to Bill’s recommendation. This meant so much to me because, for the previous 20 years, I regarded him as an idol, a mentor, a recording engineer with outstanding musical taste and perception—great ears.

—David P. Leonard, president/CEO/founder
Trebas Institute