Born in Danville, Illinois in 1920, Bill Putnam began his excursion into the world of audio building radios. In high school, he worked repairing radios and renting out PA systems, which is where he developed his interest in the business side of music. After college, Putnam worked at radio stations and did radio engineering for the Army during WWII. In 1946, Bill opened Universal Recording Corporation in Evanston, Illinios. He later formed Universal Audio, which built most of the equipment used in Universal Recording, including the console.
Putnam relocated to Chicago, and in 1947 recorded what is thought to be the first pop record that used artificial reverb. That recording, The Harmonicats- “Peg-O-My-Heart”, went on to sell over 1.4 million copies. According to Bruce Swedien, engineer and Sweetwater customer, “Many of the recordings that were done prior to that had reverb, but it was part of the acoustics of the recording environment. Bill’s contribution to the art was that he literally came up with the design of the way the echo or reverb sound is sent from the recording desk and the way it’s returned to the mix so that it can be used in a variable amount. It was engineering techniques pioneered at Universal that really made waves in the audio world – the first use of tape repeat, the first vocal booth, 8-track recording trials, and experiments with half-speed disc mastering, just to name a few. Putnam sold his interest in Universal Recording in 1957 and opened United Recording Corporation on the West Coast with the Universal Audio business upstairs. It was here that Putnam had the forethought to begin recording in stereo. Stereo was new at the time, and the record companies weren’t interested, but Bill saw stereo as the future and began recording both a mono and stereo feed. The extra effort of dual feeds paid off handsomely when the record companies came to their senses and wanted stereo recordings, which Putnam had.
On the West Coast, Universal Audio flourished as well. Now called UREI, the company was granted a patent for the LA-2A leveling amplifier, and later the 1176 leveling amplifier and 1108 FET preamp, devices that are still heavily used some 40 years later. The imprint left on the audio world by Bill Putnam knows no tangible boundary: The modern control room is Bill’s concept; EQ on every channel of a mixer is Putnam’s idea; the first multi-band EQ – Putnam broke new ground on virtually everything he touched. Without Bill Putnam, modern recording as we know it might not exist.