KNOWN RADIO RECORDINGS 1928-1930
A series of phonograph records released on the Sears-Roebuck "Silvertone" label purports to feature a broadcast of the "WLS Showboat" program, but it is a studio recording intended to give the feel of the show, and is not an actual broadcast.
The widely-distributed "Amos n Andy" sequence in which the two discuss the upcoming election is from a Victor record, one of several to be released by the team over the next two years, and is not a radio broadcast. Ironically, it is this phonograph record most often used by NBC to represent this series in various retrospective programs, since the network recorded only a handful of actual broadcasts during the programs 15-minute serial era. Syndication discs of "Amos n Andy" began to be recorded and distributed by WMAQ, Chicago in the spring of 1928, but these were not off-air recordings of a live broadcast. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll would record the shows ahead of the scheduled air date, allowing time for pressing and distribution. The shows were approximately nine minutes long, with each episode recorded on a single twelve inch 78rpm record. Each episode included a bit of redundant dialogue at the end of the first side to ease the transition between sides. Those stations with dual turntables would most likely have been sent two copies of each disc, allowing a smooth blending of the sides. Opening and closing announcements were done live by each subscribing station, and no commercials were included. Each set of discs was to be returned to WMAQ after being broadcast, and the discs were presumably destroyed on their return. So it is that only a very few of these episodes seem to survive. Most of those that do date from mid-1929. This was the first series to be distributed in such a manner, and the project was extremely successful. "Amos n Andy" achieved national renown long before they began their network run, and the success of their "chainless chain" would have significant influence on the industry the following year
??/??/28--"Roxys Gang" NBC Blue Network. WJZ aircheck recorded by the Edison Company. Another 30rpm Rayediphonic recording, this program was discovered by Dr. Biel in the archives of the Edison Historic Site in New Jersey. Edison , Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone appear on this special broadcast commemorating the 1928 Chicago Radio Show, a popular trade exposition.
10/20/28 -- Edison Special Congressional Medal Presentation. NBC Red Network. WJZ aircheck recorded by the Edison Company. A speech by President Coolidge is followed by appropriate commemorative ceremonies celebrating Edison's inventive achievements.
Following on the success of the syndicated "Amos n Andy" other companies began prerecording shows for distribution to individual stations, and most programs dated 1929 currently in collectors circulation that I have encountered are syndications and not authentic broadcast recordings.
Chicago was the center of syndication activity, with the National Radio Advertising Company being one of the largest operations, producing shows for such clients as the Meadows Manufacturing Company, Maytag, and Brunswick-Balke-Collender. N-R-A-C shows were usually recorded at the Brunswick Record studios and released on specially-pressed Brunswick 78rpm discs. Columbia Records had a similar relationship with some of the other syndicated program producers, releasing discs using its much-touted "New Process." By late 1929 or very early 1930, Columbia also began releasing syndicated radio product on 16 inch pressings at 331/3 rpm, taking advantage of technology developed for the Vitaphone talking-picture process.
One 1929 disc that has caused a lot of confusion among collectors is the "Don Lee New Years Party" recording. This recording was a specially-prepared Brunswick disc featuring various KHJ performers distributed by Don Lee to his employees as a holiday gift in December 1929. It is not an actual broadcast.
There are however at least four authentic broadcast recordings extant from 1929. They include:
1/12/29-- Cascade Tunnel Dedicatory Program. NBC Blue network linecheck, recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Company. The Great Northern Railroad sponsored this hour long program, celebrating the opening of its tunnel in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Graham McNamee reports from Berne, Washington as the first train goes thru, and there are speeches by President-Elect Hoover and assorted other dignitaries. Back in New York, Phillips Carlin is studio announcer for musical entertainment by George Olsen and his Music, along with cut-ins from San Francisco by Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink. The broadcast was recorded in two formats -- 16 inch masters at 33 1/3 rpm, and 12 inch 78rpm masters. The 16-inch masters preserved the entire program, but it is possible that portions were edited from the 12 inch recordings. Pressings of the discs for this program may have been distributed by Great Northern as a keepsake of this historic event to employees and clients, and very few sets are known to exist.
2/11/29--Thomas Edison Birthday Tribute. NBC Blue Network. WJZ aircheck recorded by the Edison Company. Another recording unearthed by Dr. Biel at the Edison Site. According to radio listings of the day, this was an hour-long tribute to Edison on his 88th birthday intended as the first in a series of Edison-sponsored programs. The climax of the program was a short talk by the inventor himself. Approximately forty minutes of the program were recorded on two 30-rpm vertical-cut "Rayediphonic" discs -- an experimental long playing modification of the Edison Diamond Disc system which recorded thirty minutes per side -- but an electronic failure in the recording amplifier made it impossible to record the entire program.
10/21/29--Lights Golden Jubilee Celebration. NBC Blue network. WJZ aircheck recorded by the Edison Company on "Rayediphonic" discs. The fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the light bulb is observed in this special program from Dearborn. Michigan. An array of luminaries including President Hoover pay tribute to Edison and his invention. Edison himself also speaks, and participates in a re-enactment of the first lighting of the electric lamp. Albert Einstien speaks by shortwave from Berlin, but reception is extremely poor. The recording includes the earliest surviving version of the NBC chimes -- a five note progression very much unlike the standard G-E-C. The complete one-hour program was recorded, but a tape copy is in circulation via the National Archives which has been edited to approximately 32 minutes.
11/13/29 -- Remarks by Eleanor Roosevelt at the annual Seven Colleges Dinner in New York. WOR, Newark aircheck, recorded at Coumbia University. Excerpts from this broadcast include a speech by Mrs. Roosevelt --then First Lady of New York State-- on the importance of education for girls. I have not examined the recording, but it is most likely an instantaneous aluminum disc, one of the earliest surviving examples of this format. The disc is held by Columbia as part of its Brander Matthews Dramatic Library collection, and a tape reference copy is held by the Library of Congress.
Syndicated shows become even more popular, with many companies now in the field, many with names designed to simulate those of the real networks. They include Continental Broadcasting, World Broadcasting, Radio Digest Bureau Of Broadcasting and others. Again, virtually all circulating programs dated 1930 are from syndication discs. Several "Amos n Andy" sequences dated 1930 are, again, from commercially-released Victor records, and are not broadcasts.
RCA Victor's Home Recording system was introduced in October 1930 -- and broadcast recordings made on this system have been found dating very close to that introduction. These first home recordings were made on 6-inch diameter blanks with a maximum running time at 78rpm of about ninety seconds. Larger size Victor blanks were introduced by 1932, as were machines capable of recording at 33 1/3 rm as well as 78.
1/21/30 -- Speech by King George V at the opening of the Five Power Naval Conference in London. BBC linecheck recorded by the Gramophone Company of London for commercial release on the HMV label. This is a fairly common disc, one of a series issued by HMV of important speeches by the King. Many of these are broadcast recordings. In addition to this recording, there is a lengthy series of discs from this Conference in the Brander Matthews Library collection at Columbia, but I have been unable to confirm if they are actual broadcast recordings.
3/18/30 -- "Der Lindbergflug" ("Lindbergh's Flight) -- Berlin Radio, recorded by Berlin Radio. This program is a musical drama by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill, based on the trans-Atlantic flight of Col. Charles Lindbergh. The broadcast was recorded (probably on steel tape) for later relay to Radio Paris and the BBC, where translations were overlaid in French and English. The original 18-minute German language broadcast is the surviving version, and is believed to be the earliest surviving broadcast from Continental Europe.
3/19/30 and 3/26/30 -- Coca Cola Program. NBC Red network airchecks, recorder unconfirmed, but possibly Speak-O-Phone Recording Studio. These two complete half-hour broadcasts feature announcer Graham McNamee, Leonard Joy and his Coca Cola Top Notchers Orchestra, and sportswriter Grantland Rice with interviews of leading athletes of the day. The 3/19 program -- the series premiere -- is an aircheck of WEAF in New York, and the 3/26 program an aircheck of WEEI, Boston. If these are indeed Speak-O-Phone aluminums, they're the earliest known: dating just four months after the company is known to have been formed in Boston. Not in my collection but known to exist.
8/4/30--Talk By Colonel Lindbergh. CBS and NBC networks. CBS aircheck recorded by "Electro Broadcasters Corportation and distributed on 2 10" 78rpm records. This is the earliest CBS recording in my collection, a ten minute speech by Lindbergh on the future of aviation. It was the aviators first formal radio address, and he sounds decidedly nervous. Plans called for this program to be relayed to a worldwide audience by short wave, and Lindbergh actually gave the speech twice--the first time was shortwaved to the BBC in London, but weather conditions over the Atlantic prevented it from getting through. The second broadcast, the one recorded, was intended for stateside listeners.
11/1/30 -- Chicago Civic Opera Company Broadcast Excerpts. WLS, Chicago airchecks recorded on Victor Home Recording Discs. Two double-sided discs running about six minutes total, containing fragments from Act II: Prelude of "Tannhauser." Lotte Lehman, Hans Hermann Nissen, and Paul Althouse are heard in this earliest surviving aircheck of a U.S. opera broadcast. No announcers are heard.
11/30/30, 12/22/30, 12/29/30 -- Empire Builders. NBC Blue network, airchecks of KYW Chicago. Recorder unknown, but probably Universal Recording Laboratories. Part of a series of recordings of programs from this pioneering dramatic series discovered in the mid-1980s in the corporate archives of the Great Northern Railroad. This program, sponsored by the Great Northern, was a dramatic anthology focusing on the tales of passengers on the Empire Builder, Great Northerns crack train on the Chicago-to-Seattle run. It was one of the first straight dramatic programs on the NBC schedule, and these programs provide an important window into the birth of network radio drama. The casts include such well-known performers as Don Ameche and Bernadine Flynn, and the production values are excellent, putting the lie to the assumption that all early drama was primitive. Additional shows survive from 1/5/31, 1/12/31, 1/19/31, 1/26/31, 2/2/31, and 2/16/31.
12/7/30 -- Atwater Kent Hour Excerpts. NBC Red network, WEAF New York airchecks recorded on a Victor Home Recording Disc. One 6-inch double-sided disc containing ninety-second fragments of Rosa Ponselle's performance of selections from "Schwanensang" and "Carmen." No announcers are heard.
Elizabeth McLeod's Documenting Early Radio Page.