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What Do Get Smart and SAM have in Common?

“I didn’t realize that Get Smart was a Mel Brooks production… but it’s obvious now,” I heard Clay say as I walked into the Control Room.

Clay recently bought the DVDs for his wife, who used to watch the show frequently. As Clay and Paul, our chief engineer, deconstructed some old mixes in the control room, Clay mentioned this in passing.

Once started on the subject of Get Smart, Paul, audio engineer by heart and electrical engineer by mind, launched into a classic Paul West story: a humorous anecdote chalked full of details you might could understand if you ever built a NASA space station.

Paul’s been engineering for a long time. And I’m convinced he knows just about everything there is to know about it. Remember the old Bo Jackson slogan, “Bo Knows?” There was that black and white Nike poster of shirtless Bo in football pads with a baseball bat on his shoulders. For all things athletic, it was “Bo Knows.” For all things audio, and especially around our part of Dallas, it’s “Paul knows.” (Granted, the poster with skinny Paul in shoulder pads might not sell so well.)

As it turns out, a number of years ago, in order to reissue old Get Smart episodes, the producers decided to remaster everything. In order to do so, they had to solve a problem: all the audio for the Get Smart episodes was recorded on three tracks. In case you aren’t counting, that was THREE. One for music, one for dialogue, and one for FX like canned laughter.

Now, for all you non-engineers out there, these days in Television music, we’ll burn three tracks on a single snare drum. One for the top of the snare, one for the bottom, and one for a midi-sync track in case we need to get some extra snap out of the mix. Then you’ve got a handful of tracks each for the other drum pieces, the rest of the band, the string section, the brass section, etc. We are not even talking about dialogue or sound FX yet.

Anyway, the Get Smart people needed an audio engineer and/or company that had the then-defunct-3-track recording machine required to transfer a 3-track audio mix onto the then-standard 8 audio tracks. Confused yet? Well, put yourself in their situation: who are you gonna call? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not Bo Jackson.

At the time, Paul worked for Media General Broadcast Services in Memphis. They had a three track player because…well… they were legendary, so they had everything. Via Media General Broadcast Services, the old Get Smart episodes landed on the desk of a young Paul West.

You might be thinking,  “How wonderful would life be if I could just watch Get Smart episodes for my job?” But Paul didn’t watch Get Smart – he got audio only. “After a while, it was very strange…” he recalls with a grin.

But the connection doesn’t end there. MGBS was later bought out by TM Studios, which was founded by the iconic composer Tom Merriman. Merriman is a long time friend of the man upstairs, and a current contributor to the VAULT music library (you can hear his great stuff here). TM, though no longer owned by Merriman, is currently the oldest radio jingle company still in business.

So how’s that for jingle trivia? What do Stephen Arnold Music and Get Smart have in common? Audio engineer Paul West and composer Tom Merriman.

And through at most six degrees of separation, probably Bo Jackson, too.

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