The Wizard of Foz
It was the early ’80s when I first heard the name Fosgate. I was 13, and my summer job was to coat myself in baby oil and “lie out” in the sun. As I glistened and turned like a rotisserie chicken on my plastic lawn chair, I listened to Rock 103 on a portable radio. In between songs, I heard commercials for Sound Warehouse—a guy with a booming voice rattling off the names of car stereos and speakers, all at rock-bottom prices! For some reason, the name Rockford Fosgate stood out. Too young to own a car, I had no need for Rockford Fosgate products at that point, but regardless, they sounded cool.
Little did I know then, nor do many realize today, that the man behind the name is a major contributor to how we hear music in our cars and homes—and that many of his groundbreaking innovations in sound were dreamed up in a lab in Heber City. To a large degree, local Jim Fosgate pioneered high-power car audio and home theater systems, designing arguably the finest quadrophonic sound processor of its era. He is one of the early innovators of surround sound technology; he designed the best-selling “matrix surround codec” of all time, Dolby Pro Logic II; and in addition to being awarded 18 audio-related patents, Fosgate won an Emmy in 2003 for the development of surround sound for television.
“I love sound, and I just wanted to share it with other people,” says Fosgate, who is known among audiophiles as the “Wizard of Foz.” Since he was a little boy tinkering in his father’s radio and TV repair shop, Fosgate has had a drive to create sound as he envisions it in his mind. He hears things most people don’t—fuzz or expansiveness or limits in sound circuitry that the average person can’t detect. Fosgate’s own home sound system in Heber City—which he believes to be the best in the world—took years to perfect, before he could enjoy his library of 8,000 LPs and thousands of CDs. “It’s difficult to enjoy music with imperfections,” he admits.
As many roads to success are, Fosgate’s was winding, the complications of running a business often getting in the way of design and creativity. But he has left his mark and is still working, now into his 70s. His wife, Norma, says, “He’s not really working, but playing”—which he admits as well. One of his three newest designs in production, the Fosgate Signature Headphone Amplifier, is selling for $1,499. Working with Musical Surroundings, he also has two other new products on the way.
The Fosgates divide their time between homes in Indian Wells, Calif., and Heber City, where they retreat to their ranch in the Pinnacles area of the Strawberry River. What does a world-class sound engineer enjoy most about life in rural Utah? Ironically, perhaps, the silence.