Wow - well, it's been almost a month since I posted. Work is getting the best of me these days, and I haven't felt like I've had time to do much of anything. I've been "busy as a porcupine" to quote one of Shelley Berman's many great routines...
But I've got something today that I just love, and that, hopefully, some of you will, too. But there's a story, first.
Since the 1930's, my family had attended St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Evanston, IL. Then, when my mom returned from college (and a subsequent adventure in New York City), in the mid 1940's, she was a full fledged professional singer. At that time, she was hired as the soprano soloist in St. Matthew's church choir (she would continue in that role for an astonishing 54 years).
The organist and choir director was a man with one of the great names in history, Porter Heaps. Concurrent to his work at St. Matthew's, Porter was also the organist on several radio shows which were produced - most only transcription discs - out of various spots in and near Chicago. He was also the national spokesman for the Hammond Organ company.
Reading over his obituaries, it becomes clear that he was the key person in "selling" the country and other musicians on the idea that a small console instrument could be called an "organ", and that the term was not just meant for pipe organs. St. Matthew's had, at the time, a Hammond Organ, of course. You can read about Porter here, including a fascinating paragraph on his use of citrus fruits during his Hammond Organ demonstrations.
Along the way, he made a handful of albums of organ music, which pop up from time to time, at least in the Chicago area used record stores I've been known to frequent.
Here is the man himself:
Getting back to St. Matthew's: I grew up in that same church (indeed, I still attend it to this day), and as Porter and my mom were close friends, I got to know him, about as much as any grade schooler gets to know one's parents' friends. And I thought he was wonderful - a happy-go-lucky elf of a guy, with a great sense of humor and a gentle way with everyone.
Porter announced his retirement and an upcoming move out west in 1970. But before he left, perhaps (probably) having been told of my love of tape recorders and recordings, he invited me and my mom over for an afternoon of copying some of his favorite tapes.
But these were no ordinary tapes. They were paper reels, from the dawn of recording, they contained pristine (for the most part) recordings of otherwise long lost regional radio from the late 1940's and very early 1950's, nearly all of which were in his collection because he'd been the organist on those shows. While episodes of these shows exist elsewhere online, they are mostly in lesser sound quality, and they don't include these episodes.
I quickly fell in love with the entire collection, and well before the end of 1970, the tape marked "Heaps Radio" was undoubtedly my most listened to tape of the year. I loved all the different shows, the very different world that they portrayed, and especially, the wonderful, corny commercial jingle for Quaker Oats, as well as the mystifying (for a ten year old boy) commercials about "certain specific days" that a woman might want to use Lydia Pinkham's products, as well as the brief Pinkham jingle.
I'm going to share nearly the entire contents of that tape here, in the order that Porter shared them, leaving out only four novelty records that he included - presumably thinking they would appeal to me, which they did - all of which were rare at the time, but have since become easier to find, especially with youtube.
For his first selection, Porter gave me a 22 minute segment of a show titled "Man on the Farm", which was a promotional program for Quaker Oats and Mother's Oats ("which ARE the same"), and which also promoted their "Full-O-Pep" Chick Starter and seed sales. I'm not sure this is all from the same episode - it starts midway through an episode, and then there is a short gap at the 9:15 mark.
But following that gap is, no doubt, the reason Porter started with this reel. It contains what he called "The Heaps Wedding Bit". Unfortunately, Porter's voice is very hard to hear during this bit, as he describes how he played the wedding music for a variety of brides. I'm not sure why that is, but it's certainly the poorest recorded segment of the entire collection, with his tiny voice coming from seemingly two rooms away, followed by booming music on the organ.
This was followed by more "Man on the Farm", again, sounding as if perhaps this portion came from more than one episode, or simply had elements of one episode. The high point for me here is the "Meowing Contest".
Download: More "Man on the Farm" (Segments)
The two longest portions of the Heaps collection are two complete daytime audience participation shows, heard back to back. The first is "Ladies Fair". This is not technically "complete", as the tape recorder had some problems midway through (commented on at the end), and this interrupts several short moments of the show. But the show is full of audience interviews, music, contests and ads and is endlessly entertaining to these ears.
Download: "Ladies Fair"
The next track is a full episode of something called "Ladies Be Seated" (later satirized by Bob and Ray as "Ladies, Grab Your Seats"). The content of this show is pretty much interchangeable with "Ladies Fair", and is equally fascinating to me.
Download: "Ladies Be Seated"
The "Ladies Be Seated" reel also contained just the short opening moments of something called "Add-A-Line", really no more than an explanation of what the show was about.
Download: "Add-A-Line" (Short Opening Segment)
Barely longer than that is the next portion, and it has mystified me now for more than 50 years. Porter clearly wanted to share this moment of hilarity from a "Man on the Farm" broadcast, where the entire audience explodes with laughter at something a woman starts to say, and then they remain unable to stop laughing for two minutes. But what is the joke she is making? I suspect it has something to do with Bed Pans, which no doubt would have been the cause of nervous laughter and naughty chuckling at the time, but I'm not sure.
Finally, with a bit more room left on my reel, Porter gave me one more short segment of "Man on the Farm".
Download: A Final "Man on the Farm" Segment
I don't usually beg, or even ask, for comments, but as this is one of my favorite tapes ever, I'd love to hear what you think.
Porter lived nearly 30 more years after retirement, and well into the years when I was heavily into collecting reels, and he and my mom remained friends. Over the years, I have thought, many, many, many, many times that I should have reached out to Porter, via my mom, to ask if he would give me his tapes, or leave them to me - he had an in-the-wall bookcase that was a literal WALL of tapes, and the thought of what treasures were on the other ones - other than the four or five he shared with me - has haunted me ever since I start seriously collecting them. But I never asked, and who knows where all of those tapes are today.
Finally, here is our "Very Short Reel" for this post. Here's the way the tape box for this reel looks:
The contents of this reel are below - it's a demo reel for Pat Sheridan, who was, for quite a while, an AM radio personality in Chicago, at this time on WMAQ, which was an easy listening/soft rock station in the 1960's and 1970's. His samples here are all over the map, from innuendo and one-liners, to a brief, serious plug for the United Fund.
Download: Pat Sheridan - Demo Reel, "Sheridanize"