Back when I was an undergrad at Southern Methodist University (1979-1982), there existed a ruthless, seething, grey-skinned, chain-smoking, Korean-War-veteran audio professor named Ted Gardner. Ted was about 60 years old at the time, and typically stood a head shorter than anyone in the room.
Ted’s classes were not only meant to teach audio (by the driest, most uninteresting means possible), but also designed to weed-out students who were not serious about filmmaking and broadcasting. Ted would unhesitatingly fail those who turned in late work or could not pass written exams. Some students re-took his Basic Audio class 2 or 3 times before earning a passing grade. He lectured while sitting behind his desk, reading verbatim from the text , while smoking Carlton 100’s, (Easily the most vile brand of the day, but also the lowest in tar and nicotine). Ted would also bum smokes from us students, insisting on paying us a nickel per cig. His eyes would wince, and his face scrunched up as he sucked the juice out of every puff, the sputter and crackle heard through the room.
He was also my college advisor, with regular meetings on Wednesdays.
“How ya doin’, Ted?”
“My doctor told me either I quit smoking, or I die.”
“Oh yeah? How’s your kids?.”
Mind-blowing it was to imagine being one of Ted Gardner’s children.
In his tiny, cluttered office, under the desk- he kept hidden the school’s pair of Neumann KM84’s microphones and their lunch-box power supplies, to be loaned out only to the Advanced Audio students for their final projects.
Entry-level students made-do with the head-beaten Electro-voice RE-15’s. Regardless, you could make some very impressive recordings with those mics and an Ampex AG500 reel-to-reel.
Much of my student pocket-money was earned in the midnight hours at the Steak and Egg Kitchen, across from Virginia Hall at SMU. I tutored jocks and co-eds to pass Ted’s final exams, $10 per wee-morning-hour. The Egg’s jukebox was filled mostly with the country hits of the day, except selection 1A, which strangely had no title card. One night we gambled a quarter to hear what 1A was hiding. Like so much spilled eggs and flour on the napkin dispensers, out flowed David Bowie’s “Changes.” Oh, wow.
Ted set my career course for-life, by assigning me an internship at Sumet-Bernet Studios in Dallas, then the epi-center of the world’s jingle production business. I worked under John Mayfield, who now runs the premier mastering facility in Nashville, Mayfield Mastering.
Before he died, Ted had contributed his tar-soaked voice to a track from the band Course of Empire, some of whom were SMU students.
The band’s tracks are pretty impressive, especially coming from musicians who were educated at Southern Methodist University, somewhat of a trust-fund bubble-campus.
Band-member Mike Graff reminisces about his memories of Uncle Ted and the Course of Empire recordings here. His description brought back a flood of memories.
The track containing Ted’s narration can be heard below:
To this day, I carry a little Ted Gardner to every sound job. And I never forget about those Fletcher-Munson Curves. They gave the illusion of credibility to the misnomer Audio Engineer.
by Pete Verrando