The Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society (LAOCAS) selected John Atkinson, former editor and now technical editor of stereophilic, as the winner of its 29th annual Founder’s Award. The award comes 57 years after JA1 started recording on his first tape recorder and 46 years since he started working in a hi-fi magazine, as an editorial assistant at the UK magazine. Hi-Fi News and Disc Review.
John’s career has been illustrious and varied. Due to his self-proclaimed “schizophrenic nature”, he was passionately drawn to music but excelled academically in science. John said goodbye to formal instrumental study and followed the scientific route, earning a B.Sc. in physics and chemistry from the University of London and postgraduate certification as a high school science teacher. He then started working in a government research laboratory, where he made his own transistors.
Around the same time, he began performing in bands. One gig was as a member of the short-lived British folk-rock group Back Alley Choir, on the self-titled single album, released in 1972, he played bass and sang. Another group, led by Matthew Ellis, recorded at Abbey Road Studios, which inspired John to give up his scientific career. When the group’s manager ran away with the recording ahead of time and the record release plans vaporized, JA was out of a job.
The Obie Clayton Band (left to right): John Atkinson, Michael Cox, Alan Eden
After that John spent four years touring with “teenage singing sensation” Helen Shapiro while doing other gigs. “The album I was most proud of was Obie Clayton“, by the three-person group Obie Clayton (see photo), engineered by Jerry Boys, later famous at the Buena Vista Social Club, released in 1975 on DJM Records. The album was a “Porky’s Prime Cut” and you can listen a piece below:
[Play the Obie Clayton Band’s “Blues for Beginners]
“For the album, which was recorded at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall….I played bass guitar and multi-track clarinet and fiddles and also contributed some backing vocals.”
In September 1976, JA1 became editorial assistant at the British magazine Hi-Fi News and Disc Review. “I continued my career as a musician for 18 months after joining Hi-Fi News“, said John. “It was the summer of 1978, when I was playing matinees and weekend evenings in a vaudeville show, that I decided to quit. I was sitting in the music pit, watching the music and watching the stage, when I realized that you learn music and improve your game when you play with musicians who are better than you, [who] bring you closer to their level. That wasn’t happening, so he decided to move on. In 1982 John became Hi-Fi News‘s editor. By the end of 1985, he had nearly doubled the magazine’s circulation. Larry Archibald, stereophilicowner and publisher of , ripped it off for success stereophilic founder J. Gordon Holt as editor.
Under the direction of John, stereophilicCirculation increased from around 20,000 to a peak of 92,000 15 years later. In April 2019, 390 issues later, he became the magazine’s technical editor and handed over editor duties to Jim Austin, nicknamed JA2.
John has measured over 900 loudspeakers, 600 amplifier components and 400 digital products with a standardized testing regimen that has become an industry benchmark. A longtime member of the Audio Engineering Society, in 2011 John accepted an invitation from the AES Technical Council to present the prestigious Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture at its 131st convention in New York.
In addition to his editing and testing accomplishments, John has produced, engineered, mastered or performed on over 40 released recordings. His role in the engineering and mastering of the Portland State Chamber Choir’s Translations (Naxos) helped make the album a Gramophone Critics’ Choice magazine in 2020.
LAOCAS, which has over 2700 members, has already presented awards to a host of audio luminaries. As LAOCAS President Allen Taylor said stereophilic“Each recipient has decades of experience in equipment and listening to music. It’s not just about a bunch of experience. These awards help bring people together. They’re how society give back.”
John’s trophy, which is produced by the same company that launched the Oscar, will be presented at the 29th Annual LAOCAS Gala in Los Angeles on December 4, 2022. “It will be presented to me by Michael Fremer,” John said. “Since he’s so good at imitating, he’ll probably look more like me than me.”