Updated! Alma Gates, who was affectionately called the Grandma of car stereo, passed away last week at the age of 77.
A beloved figure in car audio, Alma was an avid and formidable competitor in sound off contests, even while in her 70s.
Her Bronco, called “The Beast,” shattered many SPL records before she retired from competition in 2006.
Gates, a retired school teacher, became involved in 12-volt competition as a shared interest with her then-teenage son, Patrick, as it provided a means of spending time with him. Eventually, he grew up and stopped competing, although she continued.
CNN once called Gates the “boombox Granny,” said JBL. And a local TV station called her “The Rockin’ Granny.”
“Alma loved to win. She’d spare no expense to allow the creators of her Beast, in its many iterations, to make something that was the best it could be. She always gave credit to everyone involved,” said Andy Wehmeyer, who recently left a post at Harman. “Over the years, it became obvious to me that, while she loved to compete, that wasn’t what was most important. It was the connection to people, and especially kids that was most important to her. She taught me that what’s important isn’t what you do that connects you with other people, it’s that you connect with other people in a way that affirms them and inspires them to be the best they can be. That’s why I loved Alma. I’ll bet that’s why all of us loved Alma, too.”
Chris Dragon of Harman said, “I had the pleasure of knowing Alma Gates both during the time she worked with my good friends at Kicker as well as during her time with Team JBL. Alma had an amazing passion for the car audio industry that could not be equaled. She served as an evangelist and ambassador to our industry which had incredible impact on people of all ages, especially with youth. Alma also had an amazing passion for competition, which is what drove so many milestones both with Kicker and JBL. As founders of Team JBL, Andy Wehmeyer, Gary Biggs, Mark Eldridge and I were constantly inspired by Alma. I am sure the boys would echo my praises as she will always be in our hearts and souls as one of those people that you are grateful to have known and loved.”
“I met Alma for the first time, when she came to Oklahoma to take a factory tour at Kicker,” said Gary Biggs, a notable competitor, former manager at Harman and current Director of Mobile Sales at Momentum Marketing, Tulsa, OK. “On her way to the airport she had some extra time before her flight so she stopped by our store “Car-toys” in Tulsa. I was working on a project, where I was molding a skull into a fiberglass sub-woofer enclosure. She looked at that box and then looked at me and said “You’re a pretty strange guy, I like that.”
Biggs became friends with Gates. “Soon after I went to work at Kicker and we re-worked her Bronco as she traveled around the country competing SPL as part of The Kicker Competition Group. Years later we worked together again on Team JBL as we built an all new Bronco, this time the focus switched to Sound Quality. I had many conversations with Alma and she shared a lot of her life’s journeys with me, giving me a lot of valuable advice and direction. When Alma was younger she was a school teacher. Alma loved people, most of all young people. The young people are what kept Alma young and on the go. She loved traveling the world talking about car audio and connecting with people of all walks of life, she would help anyone with almost anything. She was a feisty lady with a huge desire for success, That was really the lesson she was trying to teach everyone. Do your best and always try to succeed. Alma was truly a special lady and will truly be missed.”
Here are some videos of Alma and her show vehicles.
Some additional comments:
“It has been my pleasure to have known and worked with Alma Gates and I am saddened to learn of her passing. Alma didn’t come from the car audio business. She was a successful business woman in her own right, and found a common ground with her son through involvement in the sound-off phenomenon of the late ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s. She was into it because her son was into it, and it was a way for the two of them to bond and grow their relationship and throughout the time that I knew her, that goal was clear.
I quickly learned that Alma just naturally exuded that warm welcoming feeling beyond her relationship with her son to the point that over the years literally hundreds of sound-off enthusiasts grew to know and love her and her extended family mushroomed from there to include people around the world. Alma was always a fan of the underdog, but she also never got in a game she didn’t have a real decent shot at winning, and winning she did. Whether at Precision Power, MTX, KICKER , JBL or Pioneer one thing she did consistently was show up and win and generate interest outside the sound-off community. Alma Gates was a genuine personality the likes of which our industry sorely needs more.” —Kevin Campbell, KICKER Director of Global Marketing
“Alma’s passing is truly a loss for the industry as a whole. She was an amazing woman that always found a way to make time for fans and fellow competitors. Viper and myself personally feel VERY fortunate to have known Alma and worked with her over the years. Alma Gates a woman that was in a class of her own. The first and the last Grandmother of Car Audio. You will be sadly missed.– Chris Fierek, Directed Director of Marketing
“I can say that when Alma Gates came on the scene she changed dB drag racing forever, and in a good way. She took it from the streets to the suburbs. She changed how people perceived the sport . She was the DB Drag Racing ambassador for many years going on Good Morning America, Local news shows, Australia, Japan, Europe and telling people that it wasn’t all punk kids playing loud stereos, but a true competition. And she did it in a way that was constructive and educational.
She was our Mom, our grandma of car audio. All rolled into one. The nicest person you ever meet and not one to cross!!!!”–Larry Frederick, Eastern Regional Sales, Diamond Audio/Cerwin-Vega Mobile/Caché
She will be sadly missed by all.