A major addition to the syndication roster is the Transcription Company of America, or "Transco" which begins a series of simulated "band remote" broadcasts featuring leading west coast orchestras like Gus Arnheim, Tom Coakley, Anson Weeks, and Phil Harris. These shows were extremely popular, and were some of the best-recorded syndicated material on the market. They make for very enjoyable listening, and do capture what an actual live remote of the period sounded like, even to the point of using announcer Tom Jeffries, a popular West Coast personality, to narrate many of the broadcasts,which purport to come from such night spots as the Peacock Court of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, or the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel. However, despite all that, these programs were actually recorded in the Transco studio, and are not live broadcasts.

Also popular in syndication are an assortment of canned comedy-serial programs trying to ride the coattails of the "Amos n Andy" craze. Isolated episodes of "The Adventures of Si and Elmer" and "Detectives Black and Blue" survive to document this trend.

2/4 and 6/31-Wendell Hall, The Pineapple Picador. NBC Blue network, WTMJ Milwaukee aircheck, recorded by Universal Recording Laboratories of Chicago. One of radios most beloved early personalities sings for Libbys Pineapple. Jean Paul King announces. The original discs were from Hall's personal collection, and turned up in an antique store in the 1970s. The original tape dub was poorly done, and some circulating copies cut off the WTMJ station ID at the start of the 2/4 program. A more professional transfer has since been made, and reveals the comparatively high quality of the original recording.

??/??/31---Mary Hale Martin Household Program--NBC Blue network. WBZ-WBZA aircheck recorded by Speak-O-Phone Studios. Sponsored by Libbys. A program of household hints. Not in my collection but known to exist.

3/6/31--The March Of Time. CBS network. Recorder unknown. The first broadcast of this popular series, which grew out of a syndicated 1930 program, "NewsActing."

3/15/31 -- Excerpt of "Sunkist Musical Cocktail" program. CBS network. Recorded by Hollywood Film Laboratories.This brief recording features an interview of film star Norma Shearer by columnist Louella Parsons, and was offered by Sunkist Growers, the sponsor, as a giveaway premium. The disc is a 6-inch 78rpm "Flexo" pressing -- a flexible plastic disc which enjoyed a brief vogue in the early thirties. The disc is a violent pink color, with a photo of Shearer on the reverse. Not in my collection but known to exist

5/13/31 -- WENR "Weiner Derby" NBC aircheck recorded by Universal Laboratories of Chicago. A fifteen minute program originating at NBCs Blue network affiliate in Chicago. The program has nothing to do with frankfurters -- it's a horse race. "Weiner" was the common nickname for the radio station, a phonetic reading of its call letters. Not in my collection but known to exist.

June, 1931--Various WMAQ excerpts. Recorder unknown, possibly home recordings. This is a fascinating collection of excerpts from the collection of Jim "Fibber McGee" Jordan, which first appeared in circulation a few years ago. Most of the material comes from Jim and Marian Jordans "Smack Outs" program, and includes some very pleasant vocal harmonies from the couple, as well as short bits of dialogue featuring Jim as "Uncle Luke" and Marian as herself and as "Teeny," a character who would return on "Fibber McGee and Molly" a few years later. Even more interesting than these rare clips, however, is what follows: random snatches of other WMAQ programming of the day. Theres a short bit of a tenor solo, a local commercial for the California Fur Company, a bit of news with the announcer reading directly from the paper, and identifying the page on which each item appears, and finally the earliest "DJ" sequence Ive ever found, with an announcer introducing "Clarinet Marmalade" by Phil Napoleons Orchestra "from a phono-graph rec-ord," in exactly the manner specified by Federal Radio Commission rules of the era.

6/29/31 -- Packard Hour excerpts. NBC Blue network, WJZ, New York aircheck recorded on a Victor Home Recording disc. One six inch double-faced disc containing ninety-second fragments of Geraldine Farrar's performance of selections from "Carmen." An announcer is heard introducing the second selection on the disc.

9/2/31--Bing Crosby9/2/31--Fifteen Minutes With Bing Crosby. CBS network. KHJ aircheck, recorded by the RCA Victor Company, Hollywood. This show was recorded in two formats -- two disconnected selections on 12 inch 78rpm matrices. as well as the full 15 minute program on a 16 inch 33 1/3 matrix. The recordings were made at the instance of NBC -- which apparently wanted to monitor this rising young Crosby fellow. Only the partial version is known to exist, and the sound is such that its reasonable to conclude that the recording was made by placing a high-quality microphone before a high-quality radio.It includes a KHJ station ID and Leroy Jewelers timecheck, followed by Harry Von Zell's opening announcement and Bings first solo performance on network radio, "Just One More Chance. Bing concludes the show with "Im Through With Love."

10/18/31--Address by President Hoover on the Unemployment Crisis. NBC linecheck recorded by RCA Victor Company on 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm "program transcription" disc as well as 12-inch 78pm masters. Hoover speaks for ten minutes in an attempt to spur confidence in the Depression-ridden economy. The 33 1/3 rpm version of this recording takes advantage of Victors new proto-LP system, released to the public earlier in the year, but the recording itself was not commercially released until 1996, when it was included in the Library Of Congress Presidential Speeches collection mentioned earlier. The recording has a hollow sound, but benefits from the absence of disc "joins" and surface noise is nearly nonexistant. There is no opening announcement, but the 33 1/3 rpm version includes a brief tag at the end, with an announcer intoning portentiously "The President Of The United States Has Spoken!" The speech itself reveals Hoover as a speaker trying his best to adjust to the new intimacy of the radio-talk format...but still quite mannered in his delivery and pompous in his style. The Presidential speech was a segment of a longer program featuring various guest artists.

10/18/31-- Talk by Will Rogers on the Unemployment Crisis. NBC linecheck recorded by RCA Victor Company in 12-inch 78rpm masters. Rogers discusses the economic situation and the need for unemployment relief. Another segment of the program which included the Hoover speech listed above. This recording has appeared on numerous tape and LP collections of Rogers' broadcasts -- and comes across as a particularly trenchant critique of the dark side of capitalism -- it's undoubtedly the most bitter of Rogers' surviving broadcasts.

11/7/31--The Cremo Singer. CBS network, WABC aircheck. Recorder unknown. The earliest complete Bing Crosby broadcast known to exist, featuring Bing and Carl Fenton's Orchestra. There are other Cremo Singer excerpts in circulation from this period, some with WABC station ID, including two segments of the 12/5/31 broadcast.

12/14/31--Friendly Five Footnotes. This is a recording that raises questions. First of all, copies now in circulation come from Columbia syndication pressings, made for the Judson Radio Program Corporation, which at first glance would place this series outside the scope of this article. But, there was such a series aired over the CBS network during the 1931-32 season, and this recording and others which survive from the series match the description of the program as given in published schedules, even though the dates on the shows now in circulation do not match the actual airdates for the CBS series. CBS stalwart David Ross is the announcer, and CBS house conductor Freddie Rich leads the orchestra . The question is, was this recording made off the air or by line or was this a studio recording made for concurrent syndication with the network run? Matrix numbers for the pressings point to the latter conclusion -- with the most likely conclusion being that the programs were recorded in two marathon sessions in September 1931. Thus, we have recordings which were not made from an actual broadcast -- but which probably duplicate a live broadcast.

Such an arrangement, known as "extension spotting" allowed a sponsor to "extend" the network over which their program aired by placing transcriptions on stations not linked to the network by line. This practice appears to have begun early in 1931, with the "Tastyeast Jesters" series being the first known to have been distributed in this manner, and a number of other network programs from the period have been preserved in this form. One is the "Our Daily Food" series for A & P done in 1930-31 for NBC, and from which at least four shows are known to survive from pressings. A 1931 "Natural Bridge Revue" show in my collection featuring the vocal team of "Nat" and "Bridget" also seems to be from such an "extension" pressing, as the content jibes with a series by this name which ran on the Blue network during the 1930-31 season. There are probably other such shows extant that have yet to have had their source correctly identified, and this is a major reason why those who hold the discs of such programs need to accurately document label and matrix information.

12/24/31--"A Christmas Carol" NBC Blue Network. Recorder unknown. Not in my collection but known to exist. This is NOT the Lionel Barrymore version, which was first heard in 1934.


1932 is the first year for which a significant number of shows seem to exist. The most widely circulated would have to be Jack Bennys first show for Canada Dry, a WJZ aircheck from Jacks personal collection. Its very representative of early-30s variety programming, and the disc transfer was very well done, giving the show a pleasingly mellow audio quality, even accounting for the typical aluminum disc surface noise. Unfortunately, no other 1932 shows from this series seem to have survived.

Jacks great rival Fred Allen is also represented by a surviving show that is widely known, the 12/25/32 Linit Bath Club Revue. As mentioned earlier in this article, the entire Linit series is known to have been recorded..and interestingly, the NBC Biography In Sound profiling Allen in 1956 uses a clip from a Linit show which is not now known to exist.

An important run of shows from later in the year is a series of Ed Wynns Fire Chief programs, which survive on aluminum disc airchecks of WEAF, recordings made for Wynn and which are now owned by Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters. Most catalogues incorrectly date the first show in this run as 1/18/32, but my research has proven that the correct date has to be 11/8/32, a case of a misplaced slash mark generating a longstanding error. For the record, the Fire Chief broadcasts began on April 26th. In addition, the 11/22/32 show from this series was transferred to tape with the discs badly out of sequence. I have recut the dub in my collection to the correct order.

Rudy ValleeRudy Vallee began his archive of radio recordings around the middle of this year. The only 1932 program to have made it into circulation so far is the 7/14/32 program featuring Olsen and Johnson. This is an interesting show, as it is representative of the programs format just before Vallee began a whole-hearted commitment to the variety format for which he is best remembered. Commercials were not recorded, evidence perhaps of Vallees legendary parsimoniousness. Why waste money on recording blanks for commercials? We thus miss out on the delightful "Eat Yeast Or Die" health talks of the estimable Dr. R. E. Lee. In his autobiography, Vallee states that he held recordings of all his programs from about mid-1932 on. This archive has since passed to the Thousand Oaks Public Library in California.

There are numerous other programs known to survive from 1932, and a very great deal of material is known to survive from 1933 and 1934. During 1934, the Pyral Company of France and the Presto Corporation in the US, working independently, introduced an improved instantaneous disc which coated an aluminum base plate with a lacquer composed primarily of cellulose nitrate. Though highly flammable in its raw state and chemically unstable, this coating proved much more durable and easy to use than the uncoated discs, and was an instant success when introduced in the US late in the year. The two technologies existed side by side for several years, and uncoated aluminum recordings can be found dating as late as the early forties...but it was the lacquer disc that was adopted by the networks as their preservation medium of choice.


This article should not be taken as a final, conclusive list of what survives from radios earliest days. New material is being found all the time, and any such list must be subject to frequent correction. But I do hope that this article will spur interest in finding and preserving -- and most importantly -- documenting these rarest of rare radio recordings. If you have verifiable airchecks of such early programs in your collection, or if you can provide more specific information on the original discs of any pre-1935 broadcasts in circulation, please let me know. Im interested in trading for any pre-1935 material that I dont have, and in further documenting whatever else may be out there.


Allen, Fred: Treadmill To Oblivion. Little, Brown & Co. 1954

Banning, William Peck: Commercial Broadcasting Pioneer--The WEAF Experiment. Harvard University Press, 1946

Biel, Dr. Michael: " The Making and Use of Recordings in Broadcasting before 1936." 1977 Northwestern University doctoral dissertation. Available thru University Microfilms Incorporated Dissertation Service.

Biel, Dr. Michael : "What Is The Oldest Aircheck" Posting to online discussion group

Biel, Dr. Michael: E-mail exchange with the author, 10/30/97

Ely, Melvin Patrick: The Adventures Of Amos n Andy. Free Press, 1991

McCroskey, Don: Audio Recording in Broadcasting. SPERDVAC Radiogram, May 1987.

Sloat, Warren: 1929--America Before The Crash. Macmillan, 1979

Vallee, Rudy: My Time Is Your Time. Ivan Obelensky, Inc. 1962


Thanks to all those people and institutions who have provided recordings and documentation of recordings, including the National Archives, The Library Of American Broadcasting, Michael Biel, Michael Dolan, William Shaman, Thomas Hood, David Siegel, David Lewis, Donna Halper, and David Dixon.

Text Copyright (c) 1998-1999 Elizabeth McLeod All Rights Reserved

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