Homeward bound

After a year in France, Golson returns to broadcast technology

During the past two decades, broadcast-technology manufacturing vet Chris Golson spent much of his time earning his stripes as Sony's "format-war guy." He joined Sony in 1984, just as the Betacam format was rolling out, and, in the 1990s, played a key part in Sony's battle with JVC and Panasonic in a battlefield littered with half-inch tape formats. And even though he left the tape battles behind him when he joined server manufacturer Quantum in 2000 and now, at computer-workstation and server manufacturer SGI, where he is senior director, media industries, he is still the tape warrior.

"For 15 years, we've been hearing about how tape is going to die and be taken over by servers. That will never happen because tape has its place and servers have their place," he says. "What's happened is, servers have become firmly and reliably established, but tape also continues either in acquisition and backup archiving. There are some developments in laser recording, but, for now, I think tape will be around."

He experienced something of a culture shock when he moved from video-centric Sony to computer-centric companies Quantum and SGI.

"What I've been able to learn is that all of the problems of trying to integrate servers in the video world don't exist in the SGI world," he says. "If we want to integrate our SGI servers into servers from other manufacturers, we don't need PCI [PC interface] boxes to do that. We can do that seamlessly. Ethernet is our RS422 connection."

Golson was born in Mexico City and spent the first 19 years of his life in Europe because his father sold mining equipment throughout Europe and Africa. Since he was 19, he has made the United States home. The freedom here, he says, is what made him stay.

He earned a degree in history at Tufts University and then attended Emerson College to become a filmmaker. He then moved to New York with his girlfriend of the time. She had aspirations of becoming a television reporter; he aspired to be a filmmaker.

Tiring of the starving-artist thing, though, Golson found inspiration in his girlfriend's medium and found employment at Barco, a video-monitor manufacturer. More than 30 years later, he's still in the industry, having spent 18 of those years at Sony.

The multicultural background that Golson acquired growing up came in handy when he joined the electronics manufacturer in 1984. His first job at Sony was product manager for broadcast monitors, building on the knowledge that he had gained at Barco.

His first challenge: to take the company's Trinitron tube that was a hit with consumers and get the TV engineering community to love it as well. "It was hated by the networks because it hid all the problems with the signal," he recalls. "It made everything pretty when engineers wanted to see how bad everything was."

And so Golson went to Japan, where hundreds of thousands of Trinitron sets were coming off the production line, in an effort to get Sony to help with development of a professional monitor that would sell only in the hundreds: not an easy task.

"I appealed to their engineering side and started pointing out defects in terms of purity and linearity," he says. "And I started to appeal to their intellectual side and getting them hooked on improving the quality of the television sets."

Last year, Golson returned to Europe, renting a house on the French Riviera to kick back, relax and recharge. He also fulfilled a dream of having his father's papers established in museums in the region. His father landed in France during World War II.

Today, Golson is back in Silicon Valley and back in the industry he calls home.