Jim Fosgate, car-audio pioneer and longtime Utahn, dies at 85

The Heber resident invented the first car amplifier, and won an Emmy for work on “surround sound” systems for TV.

(Mark Maziarz | maziarz.com) Jim Fosgate, audio industry legend and inventor of the first car amplifier, stands in front of his collection of audio equipment in his home in Heber, Utah, in 2013. Fosgate died Dec. 7, 2022, at age 85.

Jim Fosgate, who pioneered sound technology by inventing the first car stereo amplifier and launching an audio company in Heber, has died.

Fosgate, who had homes in Heber, Utah, and Indian Wells, Calif., died Dec. 7 at a medical facility in Escondido, Calif., according to his family. He was 85.

“I love sound, and I just wanted to share it with other people,” Fosgate told Park City magazine in 2013.

“Jim Fosgate was a true innovator and a passionate audiophile,” Bill Jackson, president and CEO of Rockford Fosgate, said in a statement from the company. “Whether it is your car stereo, your home audio system or your local movie theater, Jim’s work influenced everything we listen to today.”

Jackson called Fosgate “one of the founding fathers of the high-performance car audio industry.” He earned 18 patents for his inventions — most famously, the first car amplifier, the Fosgate Punch EQ, in 1973.

That same year, Fosgate founded his own company based in Heber, which evolved into Rockford Fosgate (now based in Tempe, Arizona).

Fosgate, nicknamed “The Wizard of Foz,” pursued sound innovations beyond car audio, into home theater sound systems. He’s credited for leading the team that brought “surround sound” into home TV sets, with the Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Pro Logic II systems. He and others received an Emmy in 2003 for their work on “surround sound” systems for TV.

James Fosgate was born Dec. 5, 1937, in Indianapolis. His father, Louie Fosgate, was a radio and TV repairman; his mother, Vivian, was a nurse — and, according to the family, a perfectionist. As a teen, Fosgate built a portable radio out of scavenged parts and installed it on his cruiser bicycle.

He soon learned, the family said, that music and the human ear didn’t have the same “curve,” or signature — and his amplifier, the Punch EQ, helped bridge the gap between the two. The amplifier, Jackson said, “revolutionized automotive audio.”

In 1978, while working on a project in Prescott, Arizona, a woman knocked on his door. The woman, Norma, was an intern studying music therapy for autistic children, and always heard loud music playing from Fosgate’s home. The two fell in love, and Jim and Norma married in 1981. The family said they were soulmates and business partners, with Norma working alongside Jim as he developed his audio ideas.

Fosgate’s most advanced sound system might have been the one he built over the years in the couple’s longtime home in Heber. He had amassed a library of some 8,000 LPs and thousands of CDs, Park City magazine said.

Fosgate is survived by his wife, Norma; by their four children — Loni Sipes Fosgate, Su Warburton Bennee, Linda Warburton, and Lezlee Amoss Cameron — seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Two siblings, Anne Fosgate Marshall and Tommy Fosgate, and stepson Lex Bruce Warburton, died previously.

A private memorial service will be held for friends and family, the family said. Rockford Fosgate suggested that, in lieu of flowers, people can make donations to the nonprofit Jim and Norma Fosgate established, the JNF Foundation, P.O. Box 711727, Salt Lake City, UT 84171.