This article was originally written and published on ProSoundWeb in the year 2000.
January 06, 2008, by Keith Clark
Seventy-five years ago, a confident young entrepreneur in Chicago embarked on his career, combining an interest in sound with his work.
On April 25, 1925, Sidney N. Shure rented a one-room office at 19 South Wells Street for five dollars per month and founded the Shure Radio Company, a business that sold kits for building radios at a time when factory-made radios were not yet available.
As a child, S. N. Shure was fascinated by radio. In 1913, when he was eleven years old, he received his license to operate an amateur radio station.
Even at this young age, Mr. Shure’s instincts would serve him well. Listening to the radio that he built aroused his interest in many subjects.
By 1928, the company’s sales were climbing. At this time, S. N. Shure’s brother, Samuel, was invited to join the new business, and the company name was changed to Shure Brothers Company. Despite rapid growth, unfortunately, Shure Brothers had some tough times in store.
In 1929, the stock market crashed, and the Great Depression gripped the U.S. and the world.
In addition, factory-built radios entered the marketplace, making it unnecessary for consumers to buy parts kits to build their own radios. These hard times forced S. N. Shure to lay off most of his employees.
Shure logos through the years. (click to enlarge)
With the steep decline in business, Samuel Shure decided to pursue a different career. (Though the “brother” left the firm in 1930, the company retained “Brothers” in its name until 1999, when it became Shure Incorporated.)
While selling radio parts kits, S. N. Shure had published a mail-order catalog which advertised other products as well.
Among them was a microphone produced by a small manufacturer, for which Shure Brothers was the exclusive distributor.
After the depression, S. N. Shure decided to go into the microphone business.
The first microphone manufactured by Shure was the Two-Button Carbon Microphone (1932).
As the first lightweight, quality product in a market dominated by large, costly devices, it quickly gained acceptance.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and U.S. news broadcaster Walter Winchell were among the well-known individuals who used early Shure microphones.
But if the Two-Button Carbon Microphone got Shure started, it was the 1939 introduction of the Unidyne I that secured the company’s place in audio history.
Famed figures such as Elvis Presley, Groucho Marx, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Indira Gandhi have been photographed with a version of this popular microphone. Over the years, it has become a cultural icon.
The iconic Shure Unidyne.(click to enlarge)
As the first single-element unidirectional microphone, the Unidyne I was smaller, better sounding, and more affordable than any other microphone on the market.
Thanks to this innovative product, broadcasters were no longer the only ones seen stationed behind a microphone. More and more, microphones were becoming part of the everyday world.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Shure organized its operation to supply specialized microphones for war communications, including throat microphones for bomber pilots, “battle announce” microphones for the Navy, and microphones in plastic cases for tanks.
As a result of strict military specifications, or MILSPEC, new standards of ruggedness and reliability were necessary for these products to do the job.
Shure’s version of “Rosie The Riveter” – as in other industries during World War II, women took up the slack in producing products vital to the war effort.
The company worked hard to meet the stringent specifications, developing testing procedures to ensure that its products would work under the most adverse conditions.
After the war, Shure returned to the manufacture of civilian products. Its first phonograph cartridge had been developed in 1937, and by the mid-1940s, Shure was producing cartridges for major manufacturers of the popular phonographs of the era, including Philco, RCA, Emerson, and Magnavox.
Then, in 1958, the company introduced a new stereophonic cartridge, the M3D, which gained acclaim as the first cartridge that effectively met the performance requirements of stereo recording.
With further innovative products, such as the V15 Stereo Dynetic Cartridge in 1964, Shure became the market leader in phono cartridges, a legacy that continues today through the hip-hop artistry of turntablists and scratch DJs.
In the early 1960s, Shure engineer Ernie Seeler led a team to build the ideal vocal microphone, one that provided high-quality sound and was rugged and dependable.
After three years and hundreds of tests involving dropping, throwing, cooking, freezing, salt spray, and water immersion, the SM microphone series was born.
Easily recognized by its unique ball-shaped grille, the SM58 proved its worth in its early days by surviving field tests performed by young rock-and-roll bands like the Rolling Stones.
Into 2000, musical performers such as Beck, Buddy Guy, and Melissa Etheridge, along with broadcasters, politicians, and speakers the world over are heard through the SM58.
One of the most recognizable and most used audio products in the world, the Shure SM58 has been the best-selling, all-purpose vocal microphone for over 30 years.
Shure then leveraged its expertise in audio to embark upon the creation of a small, integrated sound system widely used by musicians, religious institutions, schools, auditoriums, etc. The Shure Vocal Master, introduced in 1967, integrated a power amplifier, mixer, and speakers in a compact package – the first “portable total sound system.”
Subsequently, in 1968, the company introduced the first of a line of mixers that brought greater mobility to broadcasters - the M67, a lightweight, rugged, portable mixer.
Eddie Kramer, famed producer and engineer for such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Santana, and David Bowie, proved that the M67 could be applied in live music when he used three of them to record all of the live performances at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were a time of both audio refinement and the desire for greater freedom of movement, resulting in development of the Beta line of microphones and the company’s return to the wireless market more than three decades after an early foray in 1953.
Shure also introduced another key product for performers in 1997 with the PSM 600. This in-ear personal monitoring (IEM) system went a long way in perpetuating this then-new concept to the mass of the sound reinforcement market by making it affordable while retaining professional quality.
S. N. Shure died at the age of 93 in 1995. A true visionary, whose rare blend of integrity and perseverance made an impact on the world, his legacy continues to guide the company today.
Link to related articles:
History of Shure
Timeline of Notable Achievements
Interview With Michael Pettersen