Showing posts with label 1930s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1930s. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Incineration Station

For your radio geekery ce soir, let's take a look at what it took to run an AM radio station at 500,000 watts in the early 1930s.

That's what Cincinnati's WLW ran at back then, enough to cover more than a third of the continental United States at night and even deliver a strong daytime signal as far as Toronto. And in the early 1930s, a team of engineers from several companies -- including the owner of "The Nation's Station," Crosley Radio -- had to figure out how to do what never had been done before.

They had to do this without touching the wrong wire or component when the transmitter was fired up, which basically would result in something akin to self-incineration. Up, up, up in a puff of smoke, indeed.

Really, everything about that transmitter was larger than life. Way larger than life.

God Almighty. Zorch!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

History at the estate sale

Whenever you walk into an estate sale, you're walking into the realm of history, which we otherwise know as "old stuff."

The missus and I did just that Saturday, stepping into a world where old stuff was the product line and history was going cheap -- more or less.

Naturally, I disappeared into stacks upon stacks of once-hot wax. (When you do this, you have to make sure your hep lingo's all copacetic -- make sure everything's Jake, right pal?)

There were 78 RPM records. Lots of 78s, which for the record aren't really made of wax but, instead, of the much less lyrical shellac. Some were from the turn of the last century. Many, like these, were from the 1930s. Some of the stash I went home with might be the best sounding '30s-vintage records I've ever come across.

AND THEN, once you start digging a little deeper, you think you might have stumbled onto some real history.

Look at the top pic -- the A-side of  a 1936 release by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. You'll note the vocal credit on the label, this one "apologetically' given to the clarinet god and orchestra leader himself. It's a routine thing, giving big-band vocalists credit where credit is due.

Even when the band leader feels the need to apologize for his vocalizing.

Except for the second photo, immediately above. The label acknowledges that there is a "vocal refrain," but it doesn't credit the responsible party. Odd, that.

So you go on the Internet and search for about half a minute to discover the vocal on Goodman's recording of "Did You Mean It?" was by none other than Ella Fitzgerald. A young Ella Fitzgerald.

Why the hell wouldn't you give credit to Ella Fitzgerald, fuhgawdssake?

ESPECIALLY when Helen Ward got her just due on another Goodman release from '36.


1936. Goodman had one of the first racially integrated orchestras, but he couldn't tour the South for fear of arrest -- Jim Crow, don't you know? Obviously, not crediting Fitzgerald on the record label was a financially motivated surrender to the demons of America's past, which happened to be Goodman's and RCA Victor's present.

There you have it -- a nasty piece of America's racial past right there on the labels of some old estate-sale 78 rpm records. History in a box for $2 a pop, as it were.

Except that it 'tain't so, McGee.

Just because something is obvious, that doesn't necessarily make it true. And just when you think there's no good explanation for the divine Ella Fitzgerald not being credited on a 1936 recording of hers apart from the R-word, you find there's an excellent explanation involving the M-word -- money.

As it turns out, the up-and-coming jazz vocalist -- notable then for her work with Chick Webb's orchestra -- still was under contract to Decca. Not Victor. There might be "complications" if word got out.

Which it did.

And there were.
The big band session that took place on October 7 produced three vocals by Helen Ward and three instrumentals, including a Henderson-arranged "Alexander's Ragtime Band" as well as the solidly swung "Riffin' at the Ritz," during which Goodman melted into the reed section in a rare switch from clarinet to alto saxophone; the sax solo is by tenor man Vido Musso, who sounds a lot like Chu Berry or Coleman Hawkins. Henderson also arranged "Somebody Loves Me" and Jimmy Mundy drew up the charts for "Jam Session" and "Bugle Call Rag." These titles were waxed on November 5, 1936; on that same day Goodman sang "T'ain't No Use" and Chick Webb's star vocalist Ella Fitzgerald sat in on three recordings that generated flack from executives at Decca who protested that Ella was breaching her contract by getting with Victor. During a subsequent recall of product and reissuing of reshuffled titles, "Did You Mean It?" was pulled from the catalog entirely and would not reappear for many years.
SOMETIMES, just when you think you have one kind of history on your hands, you find out you have another kind entirely.

In this case, a really rare record. Go figure.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The big tearjerker of 1938

If you're my age, you remember Bob Hope as the funny older guy who entertained the troops in 'Nam and had a Christmas special on TV every year.

You remember him for old "Road" movies on the television -- in the afternoon, late at night or on weekends. You remember the friendly rivalry with old pal Bing Crosby.

If you're a generation older, you remember the movies at the Bijou, the Paramount or the Orpheum, Hope entertaining the troops during World War II and "Bye bye and buy bonds." You remember the radio and TV shows, and Bob Hope: Biggest Thing Ever.

All of us remember "Thanks for the Memories," Hope's theme song with lyrics written for the particular occasion. But do you remember "Thanks for the Memory," the duet with Shirley Ross in The Big Broadcast of 1938 that made Hope the star he was to be?

. . . thanks for the memory
Of lingerie with lace, Pilsner by the case
And how I jumped the day you trumped my one-and-only ace
How lovely it was!

We said goodbye with a highball
Then I got as "high" as a steeple
But we were intelligent people
No tears, no fuss, Hooray! For us

So, thanks for the memory
And strictly entre-nous, darling how are you?
And how are all the little dreams that never did come true?
Aw'flly glad I met you, cheerio, and toodle-oo
And thank you so much.
IT'S A PIECE about divorce . . . and about love, wistful memories and loss. As the story goes -- at least as handed down in Hollywood through the years -- by the time filming of the scene with Ross and Hope (and the song) was done, the production crew was in tears.

"Thanks for the Memory" won the 1938 Academy Award for best song in a motion picture. There was a reason for that.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

3 Chords & the Truth: The hits in hi-fi

All I need is a nice vacuum-tube hi-fi, some nifty record albums and a record changer, and I'm in business, Hoss.

Well, and a time machine. That would be nice.

What do you think is on sale at the House of Hi-Fi this week? Let me jump in my Big Show time machine and find out.

While I'm there -- sometime around 1962 -- I'll see what kind of radio gig I can pick up to earn enough to keep me flush in LPs and hi-fi equipment. Food, too. Food is important.

AND YOU know what? While I'm back in the early '60s, buying neato electronic toys and spinning the hits somewhere or another, I'm going to see how 3 Chords & the Truth translates to "back in the day."

This should be fun -- or is that "koo koo, Pally"?

Ring-a-ding-ding, and all that jazz. Because I'm hep to all that, cats.

It's 3 Chords & the Truth, y'all. Be there. Aloha.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Your Daily '80s: Goodbye to 405

When Great Britain introduced the world's first public television service in 1936, its "high definition" broadcasts were all-electronic at an amazing 405 lines of definition.

By the 1960s, though, a newer 625-line color system began to supplant the original British scheme of transmitting TV programs, and 405's days were numbered. Above, we see the end of 405-line transmissions as viewed on a 1938 receiver dusted off by the BBC for the occasion.

It's Jan. 3, 1985.

AND HERE, we see how it looked to folks with "newfangled" 625-line color sets.

Below, meantime, we see a news story on the oldest working TV set in Britain -- a 1936 model.

YOU THINK your brand-new high-def widescreen set will be "kickin' it old school" in 2083?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

My magic box . . . in search of magic

You want to hear some heavy metal?

Try going back to the fall of 1935. You'll find some heavy metal nestled inside the art-deco wooden case of the Zenith 5-S-29.

This heavy metal, though, was made to fill a room with dance-band remote broadcasts. With soap operas and farm reports. With news, and with exotic broadcasts from across the sea.

Today, an iPod will give you music. Yesterday, this old Zenith filled your house with magic.

I know. I sound like a broken record (another lost metaphor only fossils like me get). But if you ask me -- and you didn't . . . tough -- one of the tragedies of our age is the absence of magic.

Where is the magic in an iPod? Where is the magic in YouTube? Sure, YouTube is a great tool . . . and, in some cases, a forum for all manner of tools.

And sure, You Tube can offer up stuff you never could have imagined -- or perhaps imagined that you'd never see again.

But it's not magic.

Kind of like the iPod, a zillion websites, Facebook, Twitter and whatever they'll think of next. All useful. All interesting. All with the potential to while away countless hours.

But magic? No, not magic.

MAGIC IS a multicolored dial glowing in the dark. Magic is the five tubes inside an old Zenith tombstone radio casting a backlight glow, silhouetting the angles and curves of a wood-veneer case.

Magic is the rich sound of a six-inch speaker fed by heavy metal and hot filaments.

Magic is the smell of ozone wafting through the room

Magic is sitting by yourself, listing to mellifluous voices on distinguished radio stations in distant cities, each with its own distinctive "sound." Each beaming the life of a far away place, a distinct local culture into the ionosphere and then back to earth, into a long-wire aerial, through the circuitry and out the cone speaker of a 1936 model-year Zenith radio set.

Made in the U.S.A.

Sitting in a darkened room. Singing into your ear and speaking to your soul.

Your soul -- where the magic lies.

Messages from the souls of men and women of the mellifluous voices in far-away cities speaking into microphones and putting turntable needles into the grooves of discs filled with music. Wonderful music.

Once, there was music in the air. Once, real people played it. Once, real radio stations communicated to "radio neighbors."

Once, magic ruled the air. Once, magic came to you on a Zenith "long distance" radio.

Once. Once there be magic. Now . . . "T'aint so, McGee."

Now, my old Zenith searches for ethereal magic in the still of the night. It searches in vain.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The world of tomorrow!

Funny how history happens while you're waiting on the future.

Somehow, I don't think the world turned out future-perfect as "progress" might have dictated.

Still, does that stop us from daydreaming -- and loving world's fairs? Nah, not really.

And if someone, someday manages to find and resurrect an ancient server from something called "the Google," we from the ancient past salute you. Just like they did in 1939.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Plowed Profile comes to corn country

John Barrymore, star of stage, screen and drinking establishments, blew into Omaha in May of 1939 -- still long on talent but, alas, rather short on cash.

"The Great Profile" was bringing his latest stage vehicle,
My Dear Children, to the Tech High auditorium in a triumphal homecoming for one of his co-stars, Dorothy McGuire. Thing is, that homecoming turned out to be more than a little mortifying for the Nebraska ingenue -- being that the great actor turned out to be an even greater drunk, not to mention a supreme offender of polite Omaha society.

And then somebody let him on the radio, an apparently bibulous session with KOIL where he rambled and snorted through listeners' written questions.

UH . . . YEAH. It's pretty evident the poor man was as plowed as the nearby cornfields that first of May. Reportedly, Omahans were offended.

Not half as much as the local theater guild, however. Even
Time magazine took note:
Soon the Barrymores' acting gave strong hints of their home life. With gusto John shouted at Elaine such stage lines as "You damned selfish brat." In the play he spanked her harder, she fanged his wrist more savagely, than was necessary.

Fortnight ago their quarrel burst like a boil: Elaine quit the show in a spuming huff. A few days later, performing before Omaha's highbusted Drama League, John was royally pickled. Up & down traveled his voice, to a bull-like bellow, to a bird-like whisper. Scandalized were Omaha's great ladies when he ad-libbed such lines as "Albert, you look like a pregnant string bean." Afterwards Barrymore's press-agent offered the excuse that he had been "very tired." Concurred the Drama League's lady president: "He must have been very, very, VERY tired."
THE 'ENCHANTING' Dorothy McGuire -- she who had the hot mom -- wouldn't be taking in the spectacle much longer:

"Mr. Barrymore was a great disappointment to Dorothy," reported a November 1941 profile on the young actress in
She toured with him for eight months, and was particularly embarrassed on the occasion of a one-night stand in Omaha, where his classic vocabulary and uninhibited stage presence made a shocking impression of old family friends of hers in the audience. By the fall of 1939 she found the Great Profile's shenanigans so taxing that she abandoned the troupe in Chicago, thus missing the New York opening. "I'd come blissful and starry-eyed from Our Town into this roughhouse," she said later. "I really and truly was shocked."
IN THE biography John Barrymore, Shakespearean Actor, Michael A. Morrison has this account of the Omaha tour stop:
As the tour progressed through the South and Midwest, however, Barrymore soon came to resent the play and his fourth wife. Again there were much-publicized quarrels with Elaine Barrie; Barrymore showed up in an inebriated state and made unprintable comments at a luncheon in Omaha designed to promote the play. He improvised on the script whenever his memory failed or the impulse arose , and on at least one occasion resorted to four-letter words. After further marital tumult, Elaine Barrie agreed to be replaced and left the tour in St. Louis.
I GUESS you could say a lot of things about my "damned town," Omaha. If you're paying attention, though, you'd know one of them wouldn't be "boring."

And you don't have to be well and properly plowed -- or, for that matter, as high as an elephant's eye -- to know "it's one of the most enchanting places" you've ever been in.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Calling Marvin the Martian. . . .

It's useful to remember that we don't know what we don't know.

And that some of the things we think we know --
or that we try to do, because we want to find out what we don't know -- just might look pretty darned silly in 70 years or so.

In 1924, for example, when Mars was at one of its closest approaches to Earth, some radio engineers thought they heard something . . . unearthly, let's say. According to a 1939 article in
Radex magazine, some thought the signals originated on Mars.

(Note that the 1938
War of the Worlds scare didn't come out of nowhere.)

So, in 1939, astronomers and engineers thought they might try to communicate with the red planet -- or at least see whether they could bounce a radio signal off of it. As the writer for
Radex, a radio enthusiast periodical, put it:
It appears that most scientists believe now that life is hardly possible on Mars, but some, particularly the late Dr. Lowell, have believed that life exists there. If true, the Martians are living on a dying world, where most of the oxygen has entered the rocks, oxidizing the iron present and rusting it, giving Mars its typical reddish color. Martians would be seeking a new world on which to live, and July 27 would be the obvious time for them to make an attempt at communications.
OF COURSE, the little green men coming to Earth would be most impractical. Orson Welles' interplanetary invaders of the previous year were ultimately done in by something as simple as . . . Earth germs.

They'd all have to be little green versions of the Boy in the Plastic Bubble. If germ-free plastic bubbles had been invented yet.

The attempt to "reach out" to Marvin the Martian also got notice from Time magazine, albeit in a bit more nuanced form:

Nobody knows whether or not there is animal life on the planet Mars; nobody knows whether or not it is possible to reach Mars with a radio signal. In 1924 a group of radio engineers trying to tune in Mars heard signals which they claimed they could not identify with an Earthly source. Last week, with Mars closer to the Earth than at any time since 1924, another group of radio engineers tried a more daring experiment: sending a signal Marsward in the hope that it would be reflected back, picked up again on Earth. They thought they might succeed if: 1) the signal could penetrate the ionosphere, the ionized layer in the Earth's atmosphere whose influence on radio waves is not thoroughly understood; 2) it was not dissipated or destroyed on the way; 3) it hit Mars; 4) it was reflected toward Earth, and strong enough to be detected.

At the headquarters of Press Wireless, surrounded by the barren salt marshes off Baldwin, Long Island, gathered engineers of Newark's publicity-wise Station WOR, good-natured Curator Clyde Fisher of Manhattan's Hayden Planetarium, newshawks, photographers, announcers standing by to tell all. Before sending their signal, the engineers spent forty-five minutes twirling the knobs of 40 short-wave receivers, trying to catch a signal from Mars, where the highest form of life is generally believed to be some low form of vegetation, possibly resembling moss. Result: a potpourri of short-wave noises, most of them promptly identified.

BUMMER. That crafty Marvin probably was maintaining radio silence as he plotted his sneak attack on Earth.

Oh, wait. That was the Japanese. Target in two years: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Then again, we didn't know what we didn't know.
And more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

3 Chords & the Truth: Br0 c4n U 5p4r3 4 d1m3?

The waiting is the hardest part. At least that's what Tom Petty thinks.

But that's what I'm doing here in the 3 Chords & the Truth studio, and that's what you're doing wherever. We're waiting for the end of the world . . . at least the world as we've known it.

FINANCIALLY, we're in a real pickle now. The "experts" say only Congress -- and an infusion of your tax money -- can save us now. Or, more precisely, save Wall Street, which is supposed to, in turn, save us.

From what, we're not sure. Maybe we're waiting for the pols to save us from another Great Depression, whatever that might look like in the 21st century. Perhaps it's just from a nasty recession.

Some folks have had it with the greedheads in finance and government, and they say, "Screw 'em all, being on the abyss!"

Be careful what you ask for. You may get it. "It," in this case, may be the Mother of All Noses Cut Off to Spite Faces.

HELL, I'm no prognosticator. I was expecting the stock market to tank Friday; it was up 120 points. But I think simple logic (and accounting) dictates that even if the politicians pull our butts out of the crack, America still will face a reckoning -- maybe now, maybe later.

I don't think the "American Dream," at least as we now define it, is sustainable. Even if our revolving credit holds out, the oil supply won't forever. And a change is gonna come.

That's what this week's show is all about -- and you knew I would get around to the show eventually, yes? This week's edition of 3 Chords & the Truth is about hitting the wall . . . it's about hard times and hard limits.

It's about being a lot poorer, and it's about redefining what it means to be rich. Wealth without cash, as it were.

THIS WEEK, the Big Show is all about being broke, and being broken. It's about the love of money and the pitfalls thereof. It's about what comes next, after the fall. It's about revolution, victory, peace and love.

And the show, as always, is about damn fine music, put together in a unique manner.

It's 3 Chords & the Truth. Be there. Aloha.