How Bing Crosby Made Silicon Valley Possible: The singer who popularized “White Christmas” was also a visionary tech innovator (TED GIOIA, DEC 21, 2023, Honest Broker)

Just a decade later, Crosby launched another technology revolution in entertainment. And this time he helped create Silicon Valley.

I’ve written elsewhere about the strange ways in which music made Silicon Valley possible. But Crosby’s role in the rise of Ampex is the most fascinating chapter in this story. Ampex revolutionized data storage—the cornerstone of the tech revolution—but only because a famous jazz singer felt overworked, and needed a way of pre-recording radio shows that sounded as good as live broadcasts.

That singer was Bing Crosby.

Crosby felt exhausted in the mid-1940s. And who could blame him?

Bing was the most popular musician in the world—and it wasn’t just “White Christmas,” which sold more records than any other song in history. He eventually recorded more than 1,600 songs, and more than forty of them reached the top of the chart. But he was just as popular in movies, winning the Oscar for Best Actor in 1944, and getting nominated again in 1945. During that same period, Crosby was tireless in touring and entertaining troops overseas.

But it was his radio show that proved to be too much.

Because of the time difference, Crosby had to do two different live broadcasts—and the network refused his proposal that they pre-record the later West Coast show on 16-inch transcription disks, basically a very large phonograph record. NBC had good reason for this. The sound quality on the disk recordings of that day were noticeably inferior. And the disks were cumbersome to edit—negating one of the major advantages of pre-recorded shows.

Crosby needed better recording technology. And in 1947, a stranger from Northern California made the trek to Hollywood with a big box that not only solved Bing’s dilemma, but set the wheels in motion for a whole host of later innovations.