Broadcaster and sound engineer Robert Parker, the creator of the award-winning radio series Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo, died on December 30, aged 68.
Robert Noel Parker was born in Sydney, Australia on December 24, 1936, the younger son of Philip and Ida Parker. His interest in recording started at Cranbrook school and on finishing education in 1953 he first worked for a transformer company and then in an advertising agency, before joining the 2UE radio station as a grams operator. He then worked for the Commonwealth Film Unit (now Film Australia), where he met his future wife Elaine. In his spare time Parker built a recording studio in his bedroom and compiled his own radio programmes. In 1959, assisted by his childhood friend Stefan Sargent, he made a professional recording of the Cootamundra Jazz Festival, which was released on EMI Records.
In 1964 Parker decided to seek his fortune in Britain. He joined Associated Rediffusion television in London’s Kingsway. One of his duties was to edit feature films to fit the transmission slot with commercial breaks. Parker went on to join the Rank Short Films Unit, where his documentary Learning Chemistry won a British Academy award. After the Rank unit was disbanded, Parker, in conjunction with Stefan Sargent, set up a facilities company called Molinare with offices in Soho. The company grew to about 100 employees but Parker was eased out after 13 years and returned to Australia.
He was commissioned to write and produce The A-Z of Jazz on ABC radio. Parker had become interested in restoring 78rpm discs of classic jazz featuring such greats as Bix Beiderbecke, Fletcher Henderson and Jelly Roll Morton. He discovered that the mechanical copyright in sound recordings expired after 50 years, when the records entered the public domain. Parker’s method of adding reverberation and enhanced stereo effects to vintage mono recordings using an analogue machine called the Packman Audio Noise Suppressor remained controversial but his series Jazz Classics In Digital Stereo won awards in Australia and was rebroadcast on BBC Radio 2, Parker himself settling back in Britain. The tracks were subsequently issued on BBC Records, initially on LP and later on cassette and CD.
After Elaine died, Parker bought a warehouse in Devon and devoted himself, now with Cedar digital equipment, to compiling further CDs of a wide range, including remastered recordings of artists such as Richard Tauber, Vera Lynn and Fred Astaire. He sold most of his records by mail order and was always willing to restore individual tracks for BBC producers and other outlets. Robert’s brother John died in 2002 and there were no children from his marriage.