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Norio Ohga, Former Sony Chairman and Pioneer of CDs, Dies at 81

Norio Ogha
Former Sony Chairman Norio Ohga announcing his retirement on Jan. 28, 2003. Photograph by TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA AFP/Getty

Norio Ohga, the former Sony Corp. chairman credited with introducing the world to the compact disc, died, the company said. He was 81.

Ohga died of multiple organ failure on April 23 at 9:14 a.m. in Tokyo, the company said in a statement. He stepped down as chairman of the board at the consumer-electronics maker in January 2003 after his health declined following a stroke.

Experience as a vocalist in college fueled Ohga’s interest in compact disc technology. He pushed for a format that allowed 75 minutes of uninterrupted playing time, Sony said, establishing a CD format still in use today. Sony sold the world’s first CD in 1982. Ohga also was instrumental in the development of PlayStation in 1994, having approved plans for the video-game console in 1992.

“By redefining Sony as a company encompassing both hardware and software, Ohga-san succeeded where other Japanese companies failed,” Howard Stringer, Sony’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

He also expanded the company’s portfolio, putting Sony in both the record and motion-picture businesses. In 1968, Sony said he led negotiations for the purchase of Sony Music Entertainment Inc. In 1989, with Ohga in charge, Sony acquired Columbia Pictures.

Love of Music

Ohga was a student at Tokyo University of the Arts in the 1950s when he met Sony founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita. He was made an adviser to Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corp., now Sony, helping test audio equipment. He joined the company full-time in 1959.

He served as president from September 1982 to April 1995, and as company chairman until 2000.

In November 2001, he suffered a stroke while conducting the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at the Beijing International Music Festival.

Ohga maintained his lifelong interest in music. In 2003, he donated his 1.6 billion yen ($20 million) retirement pay to build a concert hall in Karuizawa, in the Japanese prefecture of Nagano.

He also conducted the Boston, Pittsburgh and Vienna symphony orchestras, and was the biggest donor to the Seiji Ozawa music hall in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, which opened in 1994.

Sony said a private wake will be held, with a company service taking place at a later date.

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