Rest in peace Ross; you will be missed. The word gentleman was coined for the likes of you, and we'll not be seeing another of your caliber.
Ross S. Snyder, my friend for 27 years, died at the age of 87 on Jan. 1, 2008, according to mutual friends. His last residence was in Woodside, Calif. At his express wish, he was cremated and scattered and there was to be no service.
Ross, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, was a bomber pilot in the Pacific Theater during WWII, briefly an engineer/announcer at WOR, New York, an engineer and manager at Ampex, and finally a marketing/public relations/technical writing official at Hewlett-Packard until his retirement in 1985. His was an active retirement; he was a gourmet, an oenophile, and a lover of theater and opera. He was robust until a year before his death, and mentally acute as recently as Nov. 12, when I last joined him at his home for lunch. At that point, his health was clearly declining, and had been for nearly a year, in part as a result of a personal tragedy which left him feeling depressed.
As of this writing, there is no obituary for Ross anywhere on the Internet, or in any newspaper I can find. If you know of one, please leave it here as a comment.
Consider this question: shouldn't there be a celebration of Ross' life by the people who knew him? I will arrange a memorial page for him (as I have done for Edwin Diamond and Norman Sandler).
In the meantime, here are some of Ross's memories:
ROSS SNYDER REMEMBERS (past Ampex product developer)
Ross Snyder's autobiography, from recordist.com. I can tell you, this is exactly the way he talked about himself and his career, so I am certain of its accuracy and provenance.
Ancient & Retired. UC Berkeley interrupted by WWII, flew over Japan, returned UC postwar. Radio engineer/producer/classical FM station DJ, WDC, NYC, San Francisco. Founding member & Fellow, AES. Former member SMPTE, Acoustical Society. Ampex 1952-1957 as Audio Product Planning mgr., Theater Project mgr., Special (custom) Audio Products mgr. Sole technical contribution: invented Sel-Sync. 1957-1960 Video Products mgr. Then, Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto & environs to 1987, instrumentation mktg., editor HP Journal, computer mktg.
Ross invented multi-track recording (no matter what Les Paul says) and introduced stereo sound to America's record companies. Here are some web references:
My friend Richard Dalton shared this poem with me:
If I am very good
I will die in a state of grace
that will entitle me
to live forever on a beach.
Where the sun is warm
but not hot
and the water cool
And I will be allowed
to throw sticks and tennis balls
for all the dogs living on
in this heavenly light.
And they will bring back to me
I want to add a few details about Ross's life that he shared with me during our frequent lunches. I made it a point to stay in touch with retired and semi-retired friends from my days as a computer journalist, because I liked them as people. I dined regularly with George Morrow until his death, and saw Ross almost monthly for years, although the frequency of our visited dropped off in 2003 when I got a job teaching (which prevents me from going out to lunch…). I last saw him in November: mentally at the top of his game, but physically clearly distressed. Death, however, was not on his mind, nor was his memorial.
Born in Wyoming in 1920, Ross was one of several siblings. He moved to California while quite young and lived there nearly all his adult life. He never married.
He arrived at Cal (University of California, Berkeley) in September 1939. According to his own telling of the story, he simply showed up with his high school transcript and was admitted (now those were the days…).
When the United States went to war, Ross went too, joining the Army Air Corps and rising to the position of pilot in the Pacific Theater, where he flew regular missions over Japan. He did have one harrowing landing, although the details escape me.
I am 90% sure he told me he flew out of the same airbase as Paul Tibbetts and the Enola Gay (delivered the first atomic bomb). Am I hallucinating? I don't think so. I seem to recall him saying that all the other pilots were restricted to quarters while the bombs were delivered and the Enola Gay practiced "very unusual flying maneuvers." But, of course, I could be mixing up my talks with Ross with something I read. In any case, he flew either B27s or B29s, and I think he said he flew them from Tinian.
In his 70s, I took Ross to a Japanese lunch. He said it was his first time eating Japanese. I was surprised; Ross was a gourmet of considerable repute. We had known each other for 15 years, and this was the first time he every mentioned his WWII service. "People who prattle on about the great war are boring," he said. But under questioning, he described his experiences. Have you ever been to Japan since the war, I asked? "No. The last time I was there, they were shooting at me, and you can't help but take that personally." (Shades of Catch 22!)
He returned after the war, finished up at Cal, and moved to New York City, where he worked for several radio stations. One of them was WOR, one of America's oldest and most respected radio stations; at the time it was the flagship of the Mutural Radio Network. Ross served as a remote engineer for big band broadcasts; he set up the microphones, connected the remote line and announced the program. He told me he had broadcast Duke Ellington several times, along with a number of other big names that were not quite so big when Ross heard them the first time.
At Ampex, Ross was an engineer, with a variety of titles. He gave a demonstration in the early 1950s that was the impetus for the conversion of the American recording industry from monophonic sound to stereophonic sound. He once set up a demonstration in San Francisco Symphony Hall with the best speakers and tape recorders money could buy, and with the symphony. The players played live, and then they mimed while the tape played. Virtually no one in the audience could tell which was which. Another triumph for Ross.
I rarely saw Ross mad--it was rare, even for him to be irritated. One thing that got his goat was Les Paul taking credit for inventing multi-track recording. He was the first artist to use it, and made it popular, but Ross Snyder invented it. He called it Sel-sync. Technical details are here:
If I could set the record straight single-handedly I would. Suffice it to say that Ross Snyder was an engineer and Les Paul wasn't.
During the 1950s, Ross became quite familiar with Hollywood mogul Mike Todd, whose Todd-AO projection system competed with, but lost out to, Cinerama. Ross went around the country installing Todd-AO sound systems in theaters. Eventually, Todd-AO evolved into 70mm, a now defunct high-resolution film format. Sometimes the technically best system doesn't always win (eg. home Beta recorders--although apparently Blu-Ray is about to win, a rare exception to the rule).
Ross joined HP in 1960 and held a number of writing posts there, including editor of the HP Journal. When I met him in 1980, shortly after my arrival in Silicon Valley as a reporter for Computer Systems News, he was in marketing and PR. Among his employees was, briefly, the now-famous Michael S. Malone.
I knew a fair amount about wine at the time (having been to the Napa Valley Wine Library class twice). Most press lunches served swill wine out of a box or a jug. I was at an HP luncheon where the food was amazing and the wine very impressive. I asked one of the PR people in attendance who knew enough to order a good wine. "Oh, that would be Ross Snyder. He knows all about that." I made it a point to meet him, and we became good friends. He came to my house for three black-tie dinners over the years, and innumerable other lunches and dinners. Always with good wine.
In 1984 or 1985, Ross suffered a heart attack and missed some weeks of work. On the day he returned, I rented a limo and took him to lunch, toasting him with "welcome back to life." I was flattered that he remembered this gesture years late. It was from the heart.
Ross was a huge fan of opera and Broadway. He had been to the Bayreuth Festival, the holy grail of Mozart, on several occasions (black tie on cold wooden benches with lousy food and wine, he said), and probably saw the Ring cycle, in various places, a dozen times. Since we were both interested in Broadway, we would eagerly discuss his annual trips to New York (he could not go the last few years because of his health). He also took an annual trip to see several operas at the Met, and was a subscriber to the San Francisco Opera for decades.
Ross, of course, knew both David Packard and Bill Hewlett, although, of course, he always called them Mr. Packard and Mr. Hewlett. He often briefed Packard for product announcements. He thought the world of both men and was disappointed by what he felt was HP's renunciation, in recent years, of the HP Way.
Finally, on a personal note, Ross had a temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar in his home. My friend Clark Smith advised me to buy a case of "birth wine" for each of my daughters; 12 wines whose vintage was the year of their birth. He selected them for me. I stored them at home for a year or two, but Ross told me they'd never make it to 21 years without proper storage; he kept them for 20 years. (1981 was a great year that held up well; 1984 not so much). I was always grateful to Ross for his generous decision to hold the wine for me. He stopped drinking wine as he grew older, and the last few years he was keeping the refrigeration and heating going just for my case. In both 2002 and 2005, he threw in a bottle of wine when I picked up the cases for my daughters.
Brilliant, humble, funny and witty, entertaining and well-informed. Ross Snyder was all this and more, and there is a gap in my life where he used to be.