Harold Snyder, who founded a video business whose cameras assist in determining which horse wins a close race, died of heart failure Jan. 26 at his Pikesville home. He was 91.
His Pikesville-based firm, International Sound Corp., serves the Triple Crown tracks, Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course and Belmont Park. His son said the business is the "largest provider of video production services in the racing industry." He trained his cameras on thoroughbreds, harness sulkies and greyhounds.
"Hal was part of the fabric of Maryland racing," said Lou Raffetto, a former Maryland Jockey Club president who lives in Little Silver, N.J. "He was unique in the industry. He was so respected there was never a person who found fault with him. His employees loved him, and they stayed and stayed with International Sound."
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Max Snyder, a tailor, and the former Rebecca King, a homemaker. He was raised on Anoka Avenue and attended Forest Park High. He left school to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II and became a radio operator in the Pacific. He served in the battle for Okinawa.
After the war, he entered the new field of television and repaired sets for the old Hecht Co. He soon branched into amplifiers and sound systems and worked in schools. He founded International Sound in 1960 and initially became involved with racing at the Waterford Park track in West Virginia, now the Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. He worked alongside a cousin, Will King. Mr. King later opened video services at Florida courses and after his death, Mr. Snyder bought his business from a subsequent owner, Merv Griffin Enterprises.
"He was a devoted husband and a pillar of the racing industry to which he committed his life's work," said his grandson, Michael Snyder, who is living in Mumbai, India. "He was a good liberal and a good Jew and a proud lifelong Baltimorean."
Mr. Snyder's business changed and embraced new technology. It now involves digital graphics, sound, video production, photo finish cameras and timing systems.
In 1970, Mr. Snyder installed new video cameras, replacing movie film, at Maryland's tracks. According to articles in The Baltimore Sun, he placed his cameras at the clubhouse turn, on the backstretch and the final turn, as well as the finish line. All are staffed by camera operators.
The tapes made by his cameras were used by the racing stewards, or judges, to decide foul claims. They also provided closed-circuit viewing to fans who watched the live version and replay.
Video technology became a hot topic after the 1980 Preakness, when there was a dispute between the winner, Codex, and Genuine Risk, a favorite. ABC television's Howard Cosell criticized Pimlico's cameras.
"Actually, Snyder's pictures, shown on his own equipment, were excellent," a Sun article said. "But the American Broadcasting Company officials, for reasons known only to themselves, showed them without enhancing them."
The racing stewards upheld Codex's victory.
Later that year, Maryland tracks agreed to purchase more sophisticated color video equipment.
"There were only two things that were important to my father, his work and his family," said David Snyder, who has worked with his father since 1979 and is president of International Sound.
He said his father drove to work daily until late November.
"He built the business from the ground up with only his intelligence, his integrity and his commitment," his son said. "He had spectacular generosity and a warmth and humor that characterized his interactions with everyone he encountered. His word was as good as gospel."
He said his father's hobby was his work. He also enjoyed reading newspapers and was a devotee of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Mr. Snyder was honored in 1988 at the annual Tesio Awards banquet. The Maryland Racing Media Association gave him its 2014 Humphrey S. Finney Award for lifetime achievement. It turned out to be his final visit to a track, Laurel Park.
"There was a gravitational force to his personality," his son said. "And his one joy was being surrounded by his family."
He was a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
In addition to his son and grandson, survivors include his wife of 68 years, the former Marcia Balachow, who worked closely with her husband throughout his career; three daughters, Maxine Gordon of Pikesville, Robin Kaplan of Mount Washington and Debra Leventer of Pikesville; a brother, Milton Hartman of Pikesville; eight other grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.
Services were held Jan. 28 at Sol Levinson and Brothers.