The story behind a local self-taught audio genius.
By Steve Phillips
Emmy award-winner Jim Fosgate and his wife, Norma, live the good life in nearby Heber, Utah. The verdant valley has been a haven for them, offering peace and quiet amid a decades-long whirlwind of discovery and innovation in the ethereal world of sound reproduction.
Fosgate was awarded an Emmy in 2003 for his pioneering work in the development of surround sound (for television) and cutting-edge audio systems. He’s also credited with inventing the first car amplifier, in 1973, and the Pro-logic® II sound technology for Dolby®, now found in 270 million sound systems around the world.
A self-taught audio genius, Fosgate has dedicated his life to the pursuit of perfect sound. From rags to riches and back again more than once, he never gave up his quest for perfect sound. It was his work with Dolby that, in his sixth decade, finally brought financial security to the Fosgates, and then some.
“Audio doesn’t give up its secrets easily,” says Fosgate. “I worked hard to make things sound the way I wanted and it finally paid off. For me, it was always about getting the sound technology out into the world. The money just came along with it.”
Fosgate works best alone at home, obsessively designing and building circuit boards in his state-of-the-art basement lab. “It’s almost a 24-hour-a-day thing when you’re really into it” — and the seasoned inventor is still “into it.” He has several new sound products coming onto the market this year, including what he calls an “SSX,” (sound stage expander), which has been eagerly anticipated by serious audiophiles.
He demonstrates his innovations to invited guests in the downstairs home theater system he designed and built, arguably one of the best in the world. His basement is a time capsule, housing a collection of early- to late-20th century radios, record players and stereos. His pride and joy: a reproduction of his first “portable” radio, affixed to his trusty childhood bicycle.
Reflecting on a lifetime of achievement, Fosgate freely admits he couldn’t have done any of it without Norma, his wife of almost 40 years. “She’s my soulmate,” he says. He recalls the moment in the early 2000’s when they finally realized they had made it. “We were driving to the store and Norma called the bank to see if our Dolby royalty check had come in. We were expecting a little one but this one was big, really big! I almost ran off the road,” says Fosgate.
“We had a good time getting here,” says Norma. Vibrant and active, she oversees their charitable foundation, funded by what she calls “extra money.” In recent years the foundation has built two schools and a library and drilled a water well in Africa, and has contributed to “One Heart in Nepal,” a nonprofit organization. Other generous donations include their former fruit farm and home in Mexico to a local orphanage. Closer to home, the foundation is active with a number of Utah nonprofits and a college scholarship program. “It’s joyful to do,” says Norma.
These days, Fosgate still spends much of his time tinkering in his lab, still searching for the ultimate sound. Will he ever be satisfied? “Probably not,” he says with a grin.