October 16, 2018—Lynn
McCroskey, founder of Sonics, the company that originated the IMAX sound system
and manufactured the audio hardware for IMAX theaters worldwide, passed away on
September 22 in Birmingham, Alabama. His dear friend and colleague Alvis Wales
delivered the following memorial at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham during
GSCA’s Dome Day presentation on September 24. Our sincere condolences to
Lynn’s family, friends, and colleagues.
In Memory of Lynn McCroskey
Delivered to GSCA Conference at McWane Science Center Omnimax
by Alvis Wales – September 24, 2018
morning. Thank you, for giving me the honor and opportunity to
share a few words about my friend and colleague Lynn McCroskey, who passed away
two days ago a few blocks from here at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Lynn was my friend for more than 40 years and my business partner at Sonics and Oxmoor for 20 of
Lynn was a risk taker, because he knew that without risk, the reward
couldn’t be as… well, rewarding! He started Sonics here
in Birmingham in 1971 (47 years ago) with Jim Cawthon, a high school friend, as
a summer job repairing guitar amplifiers. They then moved into selling and
installing sound systems (then called “PA’s”) for churches and small bands.
Lynn was the salesman and designer, and Jim was the guy that installed it and
kept it running.
In 1981 Lynn
took a big risk and bid on the sound systems for the Omnimax theaters in
Huntsville and Ft. Worth for Mike Sullivan, the theater consultant we
remembered last week. Of course, Lynn did not really know much about IMAX at
the time. But Sonics won the bids anyway, and that was the start of Sonics in
the IMAX industry.
Lynn convinced me to take a risk and abandon a career as an acoustics and sound
engineer and join him and Jim as a partner in that small sound company in
Birmingham—Sonics. I might have been a little nuts to do that, but Lynn and I
shared a commitment to quality, and I had confidence in his ability to lead us
to accomplish some special things ...and that we did! My first week at Sonics,
back in 1985, Lynn said, “Check your passport. We are going to Edmonton the end
of the month, for the STC meeting.” I said, “What is STC?” He told me about the
Space Theater Consortium, now GSCA.
some of the things you may or may not know about Lynn and Sonics. Sonics’
insistence on sound quality was comparable to IMAX’s pursuit of visual quality.
That emphasis on quality caught the attention of Graeme Ferguson and the other
owners of IMAX. So by 1988, Sonics was essentially IMAX’s sound subsidiary. We
designed, built, and calibrated all the IMAX sound systems worldwide. Our view
at Sonics was that sound was 50% of the IMAX experience—at least—with the
picture the other 50%! Of course, the folks in Toronto would not publicly agree
with that percentage, but they did agree it was a really big
vision and his inventor nature led to Sonics developing the first successful
digital sound system in the cinema world. Yes, we beat DTS, Dolby, and Sony to
that goal. Lynn was also the inventor
of the TAC, PSE, DDP, DFP, DEQ, and DTAC. If those of you who are relative
newcomers don’t know what all those acronyms stand for, just ask David Keighley
or me—or any number of people here with gray and/or missing hair. Lynn received
an SMPTE award for the design of our first Theater Audio Controller (TAC-86)
and a patent on PSE (our 3D sound system).
under Lynn’s leadership, developed a Theater Automation System and a Pre-Show
that ran for years here at McWane and in many other Omnimax theaters, now
called IMAX Dome. (It was the music from that pre-show that you heard right
before this session began. They couldn’t show the visuals, because the slide
projectors don’t work anymore, and you can’t buy parts or replacements for
early filming of The Dream is Alive,
Lynn advised Bill Shaw on ways to pick up
audio inside the space shuttle cabin. (For those of you who don’t know the
details of IMAX history, Bill was one of the IMAX founders and was IMAX’s
Senior VP of Engineering and designer of the original IMAX Projector.
sold Sonics to IMAX in the late 90’s, Lynn spun off Oxmoor Corp and developed
ZON, a whole-house consumer audio system. Then after Oxmoor, he started Twist
Technology, an AV design and installation company, with his son Kevin. Lynn
told me that he probably would have just kicked back in retirement, except that
Kevin had lots of new ideas that he wanted to try with Twist—thereby creating
another innovating and risk-taking McCroskey!
particularly appropriate for us to celebrate Lynn here at McWane Center, in his
hometown. Lynn’s wife, Jennifer, was heavily involved with one of the two small
museums here that merged to form what is now McWane Center. Because of that and
Lynn’s resulting connections, Sonics had a
very good working relationship with McWane, using this theater
as a test bed for several new products, such the DTAC, our theater automation
system, and other products.
Lynn had a great wit, always having a good joke or two and always being
very quick with a funny response to most any situation. My favorite Lynn story happened in 1999, just after we
sold Sonics to IMAX. We had a company meeting to explain how things would
change with the new ownership situation. We had most of our employees here in
Birmingham, but we also had employees in Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, Ft. Worth,
and Denver—all joining in by conference call. After Lynn explained how
insurance, benefits, and travel policies would change to be comparable to IMAX’s,
he opened the floor to questions. After several local questions, one employee in
Denver piped up and asked, “Will we now get all the Canadian holidays too?”
Lynn’s very quick answer was, “Absolutely, if you are willing to take your
salary in Canadian dollars!” Of course, the Canadian dollar was worth about 30%
less than the US dollar at that time! Lynn was that quick! There were no more
questions about holidays!
To give you
a final example of Lynn’s wit, his brother Mike looked through Lynn’s laptop
yesterday and found two pictures of Lynn for me to use here. Lynn had labeled
one of those pictures “Old Goat.” So, here’s to the “Old Goat.”
if it hadn’t been for Lynn, I would certainly not be involved in this industry,
so I owe him a lot for that and many other things. There’s also a good chance
that high-quality sound would not have become such a big part of the IMAX
Experience so early without his influence and drive. In my opinion, Lynn was
the essential part of establishing IMAX Sound as the best sound in cinema.
again, for the opportunity to share a brief moment of memorial. Lynn, his humor,
and his vision will be missed.