Santa Clara University

Uncovering the story of Jack Mullin

Jack Mullin '36
Photo: Nancy White

By Scott Budman
Director, “Sound Man,” and business and technology reporter, NBC-11, San Francisco Bay Area NBC affiliate

The question I’m asked the most often since delving into the life of Jack Mullin is, why bother to learn about something that happened so long ago? After all, as a television news reporter on the technology beat, if something happened yesterday, it’s old. I’m constantly on the lookout for the newest MP3 player or the most up-to-date piece of software.

In “Sound Man,” however, I found a story that not only appealed to the technology fan in me, but to the history buff, as well. Jack Mullin’s discovery of the German magnetophon not only changed the history of music and sound recording, it also helped to build Silicon Valley. As a former Ampex engineer told me during the filming of “Sound Man,” “We’re a part of the Silicon Valley, but nobody knows it.”

Jack, of course, attended Santa Clara University, which was the first thing that endeared him to me. As a child, I attended just about every SCU sporting event, whether at Toso Pavilion or Buck Shaw Stadium. My grandfather, Arthur Roth, was a campus doctor and helped out at the Bronco games. If Kurt Rambis sprained an ankle, Dr. Roth was there, and so was I, carrying his bag and taking it all in.

In keeping with Bronco tradition, Jack Mullin was extremely modest about his achievements. I’m amazed by the footage he shot in World War II. One of his films shows the inside of Hitler’s house in Germany as Jack tells how he took a piano string from Hitler’s piano as a souvenir of the war. His films of England, France, and Germany surpass any of the archival footage I’ve ever seen in a documentary film.

Mullin was a man of technology and innovation, yes, but he was far more a man of family, faith, and modesty. It was a pleasure to learn about this man who played such a significant role in American music history, while at the same time learning the more intimate lesson of how someone who did so much managed to stay so grounded in what was truly important to him.

When Jack died, he was buried with a rosary and a reel of magnetic tape.