Universal Audio was a designer and manufacturer of recording, mixing and audio signal processing hardware for the professional recording studio, live sound and broadcasting fields. Universal Audio was responsible for many innovations in the recording and sound reinforcement industry including the modern mixing console layout, per channel equalization (or EQ) and effects connectors (or send buses). The firm began in Chicago, founded by Bill Putnam Sr. in the 1950s, as a design and manufacturing addition to 'Universal Recording', his recording studio business. When Putnam moved to Hollywood in 1957, the manufacturing company was renamed UREI, and included a division called Teletronix.
Bill Putnam, Sr. founded Universal Recording Corporation in 1946 in Evanston, Illinois for the purpose of investigating new recording techniques and the development of specialized recording equipment. The design and manufacturing side was accomplished by Putnam's parallel business, Universal Audio. In 1947, Putnam and company relocated to Chicago, Illinois where they recorded the first popular song with artificial reverberation: Peg o' My Heart by The Harmonicats. The song sold 1.4M copies and gave Universal Recording Corp. a big boost in income and new business.
Universal Recording soon became the hotspot for the Chicago music business. Such artists as Patti Page, Vic Damone and Dinah Washington came through the doors; Al Morgan's Jealous Heart sold a million copies on the in-house Universal Records label.
Universal Recording was seminal in the development of experimental studio techniques. It was the location of the first use of tape repeat in a recording, the first isolated vocal booth, the first recording with multiple overdubs of a single voice, early 8-track recording trials and the first experiments with half speed disc mastering.
In 1949, Universal Recording was granted a patent for "Double Feature", a method for putting two songs on each side of a 10-inch record. The technology was developed by Cook Records in New York and exclusively licensed to Universal Records.
Chicago blues labels such as Vee-Jay, Mercury and Chess were coming to Universal Recording to make their hit recordings. Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Chuck Berry appeared to cut tracks. On the jazz side, Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole came through. Bill Putnam was Duke Ellington's favorite engineer.
By 1955, Universal Recording hit its stride. It was the most advanced and largest independent recording facility in the country. Famous producers and arrangers such as Nelson Riddle, Mitch Miller and Quincy Jones grew to prefer the studio for their big band and orchestral recordings. Engineer Bruce Swedien began working for the studio.
United Recording Corp.
Putnam's clients had been suggesting he build a West Coast studio and in 1957, he made the jump. He sold his interest in Universal Recording and started United Recording Corporation in Hollywood, California, building new studios within an existing structure. By 1958, Studio B was completed, including two reverb chambers. The facility grew to three recording studios, three mastering rooms, a mixdown room and a small-scale record manufacturing plant. The new studios were booked around the clock, busy with TV and movie voiceovers and soundtrack recordings as well as with popular artist's recordings. Hanna-Barbera used the studios to record voices for The Flintstones; Ricky Nelson recorded Poor Little Fool, the first-ever Billboard Hot 100 #1 song in 1958.
Western Recorders, a competing studio next door, was purchased and remodeled by United Recording in the early 1960s. Both facilities combined their names to United Western. Business continued at a hot pace, with top artists such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Nat King Cole, Johnny Mercer, Ray Charles and The Mamas & the Papas all making hit records there. It was renamed "Oceanway Studios". Another studio called Oceanway Studios still operates today at 6500 Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, CA, right next to the original Oceanway Studios, now called East West Studios. The original studio's design remains largely unchanged over the past 60 years.
UREI and Teletronix
Insulated from the recording studio changes, Universal Audio was thriving upstairs in the first Hollywood building under the new name United Recording Electronics Industries (UREI). The manufacturing and design company had acquired the patent rights to the electro-optical LA-2A stereo leveling amplifier. UREI also acquired National Intertel, which became the Teletronix division. From this acquisition came technology which developed into the 1176LN peak limiter in 1968 and the 1108 FET preamp.
Other well-received UREI products included the LA-4 electro-optical compressor limiter, the UREI Teletronix LA-3A electro-optical leveling amplifier and the 500-series UREI graphic equalizers.
By 1976, UREI had moved their manufacturing and service center to Sun Valley, California.
JBL-UREI co-branding (1985 to 1987)
Edward M. Long of E.M. Long Associates in Oakland, California collaborated with UREI to create the 813 family of time-aligned studio monitor speakers in 1977. The 813 used Altec Lansing, and later, JBL loudspeaker drivers.
In 1985, Putnam sold the studios as well as the manufacturing division and left the business. JBL picked up the UREI name and service contracts, releasing "JBL-UREI" branded products such as the 5547A graphic equalizer in 1986. Putnam died in 1989.
In 2005, another division of Harman, Soundcraft began to offer a UREI-by-Soundcraft badged 1620LE, with 'LE' standing for 'Limited Edition'. The mixer was a renewal of the UREI 1620, a 1980s-era clone of Rudy Bozak's classic 1960s-era disc jockey mixer, the CMA-10-2DL. Soundcraft provided the new product line with its own website: www.ureidj.com.
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