1930s – 1940s
The Big Band Era
An automotive mechanic who moonlighted as a radio equipment hobbyist, Harry McCune, Sr. built his first small amplified sound system in 1932. After some practice on smaller systems, McCune built a sound system large enough to handle a big band from San Francisco’s golden age of swing.
He charged a dollar on Saturday nights and lent his services for free on Sundays. Soon enough, McCune Sound was in business.
Together with his son Harry McCune, Jr., the McCunes’ broadcast live big bands over the radio from ballrooms in San Francisco, bringing the music to a wider audience.
Setting the Stage for the Modern Live Performance
During the Korean War, Harry McCune, Jr. developed mobile radio broadcasting units. After the war he returned to oversee the expansion of the family firm. The younger McCune has been credited with inventing many of the concepts of the modern day live performance sound system.
McCune helped develop innovations such as the tri-amped loudspeaker, slider pot consoles, bi-amped monitor speakers and large stadium loudspeakers. He designed touring sound systems for leading entertainers including Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, the San Francisco Symphony, as well as the AES Conventions, the NAB conventions, and the Hollywood Bowl.
At the center of a cultural revolution
By the late ’60s, the music scene was flourishing in San Francisco, and so was McCune. Rock bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Creedence Clearwater Revival were asking for more powerful speakers to accommodate their new sound. McCune’s engineers met the demand, modifying their systems to be powerful and road-ready enough to tour with these bold new acts. McCune engineers were central to the evolution of sound design which revolutionized the live performance.
In the 1960s McCune engineer Bob Cavin pioneered the use of mixing consoles, honing his skills with touring acts like Peter, Paul and Mary. Abe Jacobs, a sound designer who got his start at McCune, brought the technology to Broadway and Las Vegas show rooms. Jesus Chris Superstar, Evita, Beatlemania and many popular shows of the era relied on McCune equipment. Harry McCune, Jr., invented the first stage monitor, to help a late-career Judy Garland hear herself better during a rocky rehearsal at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.
The era culminated in a series of legendary concerts — the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Monterey Pop Festival, the Beatles’ last live concert performance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park — all of which featured sound systems provided by McCune Sound.
1970s – 1980s
From Tri-Amped Sound Systems to TED Talks
Employees John Meyer and Bob Cavin created an active speaker system in 1971 known as the JM-3. The three-way loudspeaker, tri-amped system enclosed power amplifiers and all of the integrated electronics into an external rack. With few or no controls, the settings having all been calibrated at the audio shop, the system was easy to operate in live settings.
An early example of the entrepreneurship that would put the San Francisco Bay Area on the map as a global technology leader, John Meyer branched off to form Meyer Sound Laboratories, a trusted name in the audio industry.
In the early 1980s, McCune produced some of the first TED talks. And like Forest Gump (with a rack of amplifiers and speakers), we were behind the scenes of the Democratic National Convention at Moscone Convention Center and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
1990s – 2000s
Making an Impact
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, McCune continued to be at the forefront of live events in the region. In 1996, we produced the XI International AIDS Conference in Vancouver. The conference introduced the concept of using combination therapy to treat the virus. A week after the conference, over 75,000 patients who had been using antibiotics and chemotherapy began an effective antiviral regimen, greatly increasing their immune system strength and their health.
McCune and Shepard Join Forces
In 2018, Atlanta-based events powerhouse Shepard Exposition Services acquired McCune. The acquisition combined Shepard’s nationwide reach and expertise in staging trade shows and large conferences with McCune’s hard-won production experience and innovative spirit.