Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A Homemade Radio Show, For a Friend Out at Sea

Has it really been a month since I posted? I need to work on that, I guess. Anyway, hopefully, today's fascinating and entertaining main item will make up for the lost time. And what's more, I find that in my haste to get last month's final post up in time, I made an error in the timeline of my Scotch Tape Box series, and skipped two designs entirely. I want to get this up while I have the time, but I'll rectify that oversight next time.


I was contacted back in August by Scott F., who wanted to pay tribute to a late family friend, Brian Nelson, of Chicago. His suggestion (and offer) was that I do this by sharing an example of the sort of thing Nelson did, back in the late 1960's, for Scott's dad, who was out at sea with the navy for much of the decade. In the simplest terms, it's an attempt to create a faux radio broadcast, featuring a mix of the music of the day, and some of the records that Nelson liked and loved, and those which he believed Scott's father liked and loved.

This tape is from 1968. Going into a bit more detail, as you'll hear, the "broadcast" includes a summary of the previous year's enormous Chicago snow storm (known forever more as "The Big Snow"), which seems to be excerpted from a real radio station's presentation about the storm, two phone calls to mutual friends, in order to capture their voices and thoughts on the tape, and brief comments from members of Nelson's family, who happened by the room while he was recording. It's a big production, clearly (see below) using quite a bit of equipment, and the final product is a bit of a mish-mash of music radio style, local news, audio letter and a few other things.

Scott F. offered up the following information:

Brian Nelson was one of my dads best friends, if not his best friend, for years. Brian Nelson was the ultimate audiophile. He built his own mixing consoles, modified the preamplifiers and amplifiers he used. In the day, 4 JBL L100’s with 4 Ionovac tweeters powered by a modified Phase Linear 400 that produced a kilowatt total audio. This tape was made in the period of time where Brian was starting to get his equipment up to speed and having been in broadcasting school he was honing his chops making tapes for my father who was serving our country aboard the USS Lawrence from 1962 to 1968. This tape is one of my favorites of the bunch and I hope all that listen to it can enjoy his humor, creativity and craftsmanship. His record collection numbered into the tens of thousands and were all carefully indexed using his own numbering system typed on index cards in library style drawers. I am going to take a guess that Brian would have been 23 or 24 at this time.

The tape Brian sent was a 2400 foot reel, meaning the ability to tape record just over an hour on each side, at the preferred speed of 7 1/2 IPS, And that's what we have here - more than two hours of one friend, involving other friends and family, and sharing the music they loved, in order to entertain a friend at sea. I think it's great fun and very sweet.


Brian Nelson Side One
Brian Nelson Side Two


Many, many thanks to Scott.


Before going on, I want to thank those who confirmed that last month's Jack Paar recordings were from June 14th, 1962, with part of the June 15th show at the end. I'd also like to thank the person who suggested that the Coca-Cola ads were meant to suggest all the things you could be doing, and doing more effectively, while drinking a Coke. And yet another person seems to have confirmed that the short tape of ads I posted likely comes from the Fairmont, West Virginia area. Thanks to everyone for your great comments!


It's been awhile since I shared another example of the unexpectedly large number of recordings I have of shortwave broadcasts from Australia. I no doubt bought a batch of them all in the same place, but at some point, that batch became separated, and I keep coming across them. These are utterly charming segments, and they strike me as a unique and sort of sad illustration of just how much the world has changed in the ensuing 40-50 years. There would be no point in shows like this "Mailbag" today. Also heard is a bit of another show.

Download: More Australian Mailbag


Finally, it's time for our Very Short Reel of the month. Again, pulled out at random, it's features three ads from The Kidney Foundation, indicating how great it is to be alive.

Download: The Kidney Foundation - It's Great to Be Alive (3 Ads)

And here's the paperwork that came with the ads:

Monday, September 30, 2019

Mort Sahl Hosts the Tonight Show! PLUS Some Truly Odd Coca-Cola Ads

Howdy, everyone,

As you will have seen if you read my other blog, this has been a truly hectic and busy month, so I will not be typing nearly as much as I often do, allowing much more to be experienced by the listener without all those comments from me.

But first, I want to continue to the Scotch Tape Box series, and that's where I'll do most of my commenting for today. Two entries ago, I shared the box that seems to have been the one they settled on for most of the 1950's, then last time, I went a bit out of turn and showed the 10 inch reel box that seems to have been their style for quite a while in the '50's and maybe into the '60's.

Below you will find the box I believe came next, and it's a radical change from the "picture of a reel of tape" which had been the focal point, to one degree or another, from each previous design:

I believe this design replaced the iconic black-with-most-of-a-reel design some time in the very late 1950's, and was the going design for a couple of years. I say this both because of the material I've found on such tapes over the years - the likely dates of those recordings, and, most centrally: because I literally never saw one of these until I started collecting tapes in the 1980's. That dovetails nicely with the fact that my family did not have a reel to reel machine that worked well - at all - from about 1960 until the fall of 1963. There would have been no reason to buy tapes during that period.

Now, Scotch is promoting the high quality of the tape, and suggesting via the image, that it is what the studios use - and that was probably fairly accurate. This happens to be a 2400 foot reel, which was twice the length that the first reels of tape had. They had previously expanded to 1800 feet, and now made the tape even thinner and lengthened it again. The box says "Double Length - Double Strength", and while the former was absolutely accurate, the new, thinner tape was not in any way stronger - it was more fragile and more likely to stretch and damage, just as you'd imagine. It got even worse when they thinned the tape again and crammed 3600 feet on the same roll of tape, about a decade later.


Okay, like I said, I'm just going to put up this rare and wonderful tape and let it unspool for your enjoyment, without commenting much at all. Here we have an episode (or I think perhaps parts of multiple episodes - I listened to it months ago) of NBC's "Tonight Show", featuring the guest hosting of Mort Sahl. The main part of the tape is an episode featuring several famous women discussing male/female relationships. I'm fairly certain this comes from the several months between Jack Paar's departure from the show and Johnny Carson's arrival, a period during which NBC had multiple guest hosts for the show. If I had more time, I'm sure I could figure out the date(s) of this recording. This is an amazing 90 minutes of tape.

Download: Mort Sahl and Guests - The Tonight Show (1962)


And here's a VERY peculiar tape I heard for the first time, just this week. It features nine Coca-Cola radio, each one of them featuring a string of helpful household hints that, aside from a couple, have NOTHING to do with Coca-Cola, interspersed with the then-current jingle. I'd love to know how these were received in 1971, because hearing them today is befuddling. Make sure you remember to rub lighter fluid on the walls of your house!

Download: Nine 1971 Coca-Cola Radio Ads


Finally, I again pulled out a "very short tape" from the pile of them I have by the tape recorder, and found that it was labeled ""Clock Jingles". However, that seems unrelated to the tape's actual content, which is a series of ads for several businesses - no doubt in the same market - very likely from the same advertising company. The link below lists the apparent names of the companies (and, for the first one, the radio station). I'm very unsure that I have them all right, but again, maybe someone out there can identify the location and correct names for these companies.

There are 16 1/2 jingles/ads heard here in just 135 seconds. I say "1/2" because the ad that starts at 1:04 is incomplete - it plays just as you'll hear, on the tape.

Download: Unknown - WMMM, Kettering’s Bread, Sorrow’s, First Federal & Corwin’s Ford

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Two Unusual Collections and Two Very Short Tapes

Happy September!

First, I am indebted, and far from the first time, to Eric Paddon, a consistent follower, and one who often chimes in with further or clarifying information when I share media tapes, particularly vintage radio and TV involving celebrates, shows or genres of the past. Last month, I posted excerpts from two episodes of the Bea Kalmus shows, and Eric offered up detailed and fascinating commentary. You could read these on the page for that posting, but I want to share them here.

The musical that never came off "Mad Avenue" that Fairfax Mason refers to was supposed to open in the summer of 1960 starring Frankie Laine. Then behind the scenes problems resulted in it being delayed and in September 1960, the NY Daily News reported it was going to go into rehearsals in December 1960, still starring Laine, but it never did. The producer of the show sued another NY newspaper in November 1960 for libel, claiming that a June report on the show "dissolving in rehearsal" had caused investors to ask for their money back, and that apparently was why the show never opened.

While there is a superficiality to programs like this and others of the day like the weekly CBS Radio talk show hosted by Mitch Miller in this era from Sardis I do find it a fascinating time capsule of the era and it's very rare when programming like this surfaces.

Also, Mason's career clearly revolved around the narrow world of New York cabaret spots and nightclubs. That has the effect of making such people seem very obscure today because they don't leave behind a long trail of performance work in film/theater to judge their careers, but NY audiences in those days tended to have a better awareness of such people even if they were nobodies west of the Hudson. (The NY Daily News noted she had won the "most beautiful child" contest they put on in 1940 when plugging her eventual Broadway debut in "How To Succeed" While her part was small, apparently she did understudy the lead actress during her time on the show).

Thanks again, Eric!


Today, I have two major items which are unrelated except that they each feature a series of internally related items, strung together in this way for reasons that are not clear to me, although I have a better idea in terms of the first set than I do for the second.

First up, a reel which contains a recording - clearly made from a record, but my copy in on a reel, of a series of numbered musical cues, played by an orchestra. Some are little more than "stingers" - very short pieces probably meant to accentuate a moment in a production (perhaps a radio production), others are introductory or transitional musical phrases, and others are considerably longer music beds. The numbering system is weird - as is the emotionless voice rattling them off . And while there are themes that recur within some of the segments, the different musical items are different enough that they'd be unlikely to all be used in the same setting. However, it seems likely that this was an album of music cues, perhaps for sale, and explained somewhere in a brochure, all of them for use whenever the producer wanted them used.

A neat little oddity:

Download: Unknown - A Collection of Numbered Musical Cues


As I said, the second item I have today isn't exactly related to the above, but what it does have in common is that it's a series of related items, gathered together here for a reason I can't quite fathom.

I actually thought I'd posted this somewhere before, but I can't find it - if I did, and someone can point me to it, I'll own up!

For 15 minutes, what you'll hear here are is a series of short, suspenseful introductions to.... something. The narrator is excellent, the production values heard in the background are nice, and it seems like somethings going to happen. But as soon as each introduction ends, it goes to the start of another one, which at least in some cases seems to pick up part of the same story, some time later.

Guesses (or answers!) as to what this is about are welcome!

Download: Unknown - A Series of Suspenseful Radio Show Openings


And now, a couple of very short bits. I thought I'd share the sort of thing I sometimes find buried on otherwise dull tapes (or even otherwise unrecorded tapes). Here's someone singing a familiar song for all of 35 seconds or so.

Download: Unknown - The House of the Rising Sun


And finally, I have again grabbed one of my "very short reels" at random and digitized it for my ongoing series. In this case, we have an early '80's anti-smoking PSA, set to a generic version of some of the most horrific of popular music styles of that moment, and labeled "Peer Group". In honor of the departing Mad Magazine, let me just say "ECCH".

Download: "Peer Group" Anti-Smoking PSA

Whew. I think I need to play some Queen, Fats Domino or Fats Waller to clear my mind of that.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Late Night Gossip Radio, New York City, 1959-1960

Before I get to another quartet of tapes, I wanted to continue with the "Scotch Tape Box" series, which you can follow by clicking the link for "Scotch Tape box History" at the bottom of this post. I'm going to do my best to share these in chronological order, although I'm not sure on a couple of styles, but this post is the exception. 

Because while the 3 inch, 5 inch and 7 inch boxes produced by scotch each went through myriad changes during the '50's, they seemed to have largely stayed with one style, throughout, for their 10 inch product. Maybe they were setting it apart because it was even more likely than the other products to be used by professionals in the recording studio (and indeed, this was a sales point, right on the box). Regardless, every ten inch Scotch reel I've found from the early days (and admittedly, I haven't seen that many) has looked like this: 

Similarly, every Scotch box I've ever seen with this design has been a ten inch reel. I don't think they ever housed smaller reels in boxes that looked like this.

That box has considerable wear. This particular tape is one of six 10 inch reels my family owned and used, all of them filled before I was born in 1960, and this is the only Scotch brand one of the six. The others were all Audiotape brand. Unlike almost all our family's early tapes, there are no personal family recordings on this tape - it contains a performance of a Paganini violin piece and a collection of live Benny Goodman performances.


Not so very long ago, I obtained a couple of five inch audiotape reels, labeled professionally with a "TV Time Recordings" logo, and featuring segments of "The Bea Kalmus Show" on WMGM radio, New York, dated exactly two months apart, and both of them featuring a local New York starlet named Fairfield Mason. I'm certain these came from Mason's collection or that of her family, as each tape is clearly excerpted from a much longer radio show.

And what a show it must have been. I'm not particularly a fan of this "gossip column on the air" style of radio, which Irv Kupcinent did for years here in Chicago. In fact, I find it aggressive in its vapidity. On the other hand, its certainly a snap-shot in time, and a time where this version of show-biz might have felt quite strong and steady, even though it was nearing the end of the line.

Bea Kalmus is written up in a few places as the first female DJ in the country, and I have no idea if that's true. She also made albums, appeared in a forgotten film titled "Disk Jockey" (which I would love to see, as it also features an appearance by the Weavers - but no one seems to have it) and would sometimes sing along with the records that she played. In between, on her late night show, which came from a local restaurant (as did Kupcinent's), she would interview the stage, screen and music stars who were in town.

If Bea Kalmus' star has faded to almost nothing - and significant mentions of her on the web are minimal - Fairfax Mason, the guest heard here, does not appear to have been much of a star even in 1959 or 1960. The potential Broadway show she mentions in each broadcast does not appear to have ever come to fruition, and she has only one Broadway credit to her name, a small part in "How to Succeed", a few years later. A deeper search in Google Books finds that she was still working as a singer/entertainer in 1992, at what appears to have been a small New York club. But Bea treats her as if she was Ethel Merman.

I, for one, cannot stand Fairfax Mason's laugh.

Here are both tapes, from November 26th, 1959 and January 26, 1960, dates which nicely book-ended Mason's trip to Newfoundland, where I'm sure it's quite lovely at the start of winter. The second interview is nearly twice as long as the first.

Download: The Bea Kalmus Show, with Fairfax Mason - 11/26/59

Download: The Bea Kalmus Show, with Fairfax Mason - 1/26/60


Going in about as random a different direction as I could, here is a bit of virulently right wing propaganda - John Birch Society style - railing against the United Nations. I only have tape four of the series, and if I had more, I'd annoy you with those, too. By the way, the crackling sound is on the original tape. A quick search shows that Mary Davison wrote multiple books on this and related subjects, and was called a "whistleblower about the United Nations" at least once.

Download: Mary Davison - The United Nations, Tape Four


And finally, something very nice randomly selected by my towering stack of Very Short Tapes (this series can also be linked, at the bottom of this post). This one turned out to be a Demo Reel for legendary voice-over talent Hal Douglas, who was particularly well known for his narration of movie trailers. Here he is heard in a series of commercials and segments of commercials, in a demo reel for potential customers.

Download: Hal Douglas - Voice Talent Demo Reel

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

VIntage Top 40, Military Corn Flakes, Some Silliness and Prize Fights


I have four disparate selections from the archives today, but first, I wanted to do a little promotion: 

Some of you own, or are aware of my "The Many Moods of Bob" collection, an album of comic songs which I put together in the late '90's, and which went up online on the Happy Puppy label several years later. Well, since that time, I have continued to write and record both comic and serious songs, although a lot more of the former, recording them whenever I had enough time. And now, after 19 years, this 19 track album is available. It's called "A Few More Plans". 

There's a wide variety of material - songs set to psychedelic style, calypso, jazz, rhumba, gospel, and much more, all featuring my style of humor and songwriting. Three of them have been featured on the Dr. Demento show in recent years. Mostly, it's me: my voice and my keyboard (and a few other instruments in places), but a few tracks feature family members and a friend.

Mixed in are four instrumentals. One of these - the title track - is a fairly insane trip through sound which wouldn't be out of place as the accompaniment to a silent movie. The other three instrumentals are simply revved up versions of songs I've been playing forever. There's also a remake of a beloved, very obscure commercial (of all things), a remake of a song-poem, and a rendition of a song my brother once dreamed, during a nightmare, more than 50 years ago. 

I have been writing and recording songs - serious and decidedly not so - since I was 16 years old, and I believe that, as a set of material, this is by far the best project I've ever produced in those 40-some years, and I would love it if you'd have a listen. It's located here: 

You can listen to all the songs for free on the site, and read the lengthy notes attached to each song (under "lyrics" - there was no other way to do it), and if you'd be so kind as to buy it (which allows the download of the material and all the notes and the front and back covers), it's only two dollars.

One more thing: I'm not really on social media, for a variety of reasons, and I would very much like it if  - on the chance that you enjoy the material - you'd consider putting up links to my project on whichever of these sites you are part of. If you choose to do that, I'd really appreciate it. 


First up, and probably the most appealing to the largest number of readers/listeners out there, is a lovely 20 minute blast of vintage top 40 programming from early 1961, at WCOL, Columbus, Ohio. I never get tired of this stuff. 



Next up, a truly bizarre little story from a woman, recounting a story from basic training that I've dubbed "Kerosene Corn Flakes". The story is told more than once, for some reason, and rather than edit it down, I've decided to share the entire seven minute segment, which came to me on a three inch reel of tape, not marked as to its contents. 



I've just noticed that each of my segments for the week, in order, is shorter than the previous one. In this case, we have a group of friends just goofing around and being silly. There are brief renditions of at least three songs here, the latest of which is from 1964, which may help date the tape. I actually wish there was more of this, but it's only three minutes long. And that's all I know about it! 



And finally, as promised, the second installment of my "very short tapes" feature. I got a few bits of feedback on this, and it looks like there might be significant interest in this. Again, I pulled one from the middle of the pile, at random, and got two promos for the 1996 Tyson-Holyfield fight, along with the other fights on the card. This was not the "Don't Go Biting My Ear" fight, which was the following year - it was the first match-up. 


Friday, July 19, 2019

Give Bobby a Microphone, and He'll Entertain an Imaginary Audience

No, this Bobby isn't me, although what that title applied to me, as well. We'll get to Bobby in a minute. But first, another chapter in my roughly chronological parade of Scotch brand reel to reel tape boxes. The series can be found here, and the most recent post in that series (as of now, anyway) will show you a very spare, almost entirely white (well, cream) box with some black line drawings and a bit of red. My impression, based on the fairly limited number of boxes of this type that I've found, is that that white design was in use relatively briefly. However, it was also in use during a period that very few homes had reel to reel tape machines, and the pros were likely using 10 inch reels (which had a different box - that's for next time).

The next box design flipped the white one on its head, being dominated by black, and in place of the line drawing of a tape, and actual image of a tape.

This is the most "iconic" '50's box, to me - the one I come across over and over again from that era. It is my impression that they used this design longer than any other design of the 1950's or 1960's. If I picture the generic "vintage Scotch box", it is this one. Not only does this box appear to have been in use from circa 1953 or so until the late 1950's, it is exactly in that era - particularly by 1957 or so - that home reel to reel machines became far more affordable, and the number of tapes that I find which were recorded privately, by families, explodes around that time.

Finding home tapes from prior to 1955 is quite rare - those from 1957 and later are increasingly common as the years go on. Even in my own family, where we'd had a machine since 1952, we only amassed about ten or fifteen tapes to use prior to the late 1950's.- they were expensive! By the early '60's we had about three dozen. This tape design, from one of the biggest manufacturers of tape (along with Audiotape) overlaps that explosion in customer base.


The "Bobby" in question is one Bobby Berlt, and I love this tape. Bobby is attending an event with several relatives, and has been afforded the opportunity to babble into a tape recorder. When I first heard this tape, Bobby's well-spoken manner and the content of what he says and does led me to believe he was eight or nine. But late in the tape, he mentions that the previous year he'd been too young for Cub Scouts, and that he's since joined, meaning that he's probably five-and-a-half or six, which actually makes his "performance" here fairly impressive and not just endearing.

That's me speaking, of course, I can imagine those who don't work with and/or enjoy children finding this a difficult listen. For 16 minutes, Bobby talks. He talks about last year's vacation, imagining himself talking to an audience of younger children (an audience whose voices he occasionally provides). He provides interlude music, claiming it was to pass the time while he was otherwise occupied, and he talks about this year's trip to see the relatives he's with. Things bog down a bit near the end, when he becomes obsessed with getting his uncle to come over and talk (and when the uncle does show up, he dismisses him after about 45 seconds), then he talks to his aunt and decides he's done.

Bobby Berlt, if you're out there, I'd love to hear from you, and hear whether you enjoyed your performance!

Download: Bobby Berlt - Talking


Next up, here is a relic from a very different time, sociologically and politically. It's a 24 minute public affairs radio program, produced by the Ohio Farm Bureau, titled "When Neighbors Meet". The reference to Gerald Ford being House Minority Leader places it somewhere between 1965 and 1973. That's about all I'll say about it. Have a listen.

Download: Ohio Farm Bureau - When Neighbors Meet


Finally, I'm going to start another little series here, a project begun in part to make myself digitize a bunch of very short tapes that I own. These are typically five inch reels, but which have only a few feet of tape on them - they usually have an ad or two, or some voice actor's demo reel. They are anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes in length. I have hundreds of them - more than three dozen sitting less than four feet away right now, waiting to be digitized - and I'm going to try and share one within every post. I grabbed one at random, and it actually turns out to be one that is fairly inexplicable - it's not an ad or a demo. It's.... well, listen:

Download: "Malfunction, Malfunction"

Sunday, June 30, 2019

End of June Potpourri

Before I get to this week's posting, I wanted to share with everyone that, as a result of the collecting passion reflected every time I post here - the collecting and sharing of interesting recordings found on reel to reel tapes - I have now been featured on a major podcast called Ephemeral. The story in question is about Merigail Moreland, who I featured at WFMU many years ago. The show is about 40 minutes long, and can be heard here. Please give it a listen when you have the time. I think you'll find it worthwhile.


And I also thought I would use this last day of June, 2019, to share a few tapes which demonstrate some of the extreme variety I come across when I grab a bunch of tapes for review. These are four fairly distinct recordings, all interesting in their own ways, although perhaps not the most pleasant to listen to at times.

Let's start with the one which is, perhaps, less pleasant to listen to, shall we. I've simply labeled this "Some truly idiosyncratic singing", although you may choose to define it somewhat differently. This segment - less than ten minutes - was virtually the only thing recorded on full length tape (1200 ft - 60 minutes recording time at 7 1/2 IPS) in question. No extra points for getting through the whole segment.

Download: Unknown - Some Truly Idiosyncratic Singing

Next up, a true moment in time, a moment unlike any we're likely to experience in 21st Century America, or that any of us are likely to have experienced in the last 30 years, I'd venture to say. You see, it's the 1950's, and a new Nestle factory is going to be built in White Plains, New York. A Nestle representative is there from Europe, and the local Catholic Priest is going to offer up a prayer for the event, which is the laying of the cornerstone for the factory. AND: It's being covered, live, on the radio. Those were the days, huh?

Download: Coverage of the Laying of the Cornerstone at a Nestle Factory

The third tape I've served up for you is another in a series of tapes I acquired some time ago from various local Bell Telephone companies. In this case, it's the Ohio Bell Telephone company, taking us back to the 1960's (I would guess, anyway), when we all had landlines, and they were all from the same company. Here's an internal training tape demonstrating the many ways that phone service could be... less than adequate:

Download: Ohio Bell Telephone Company - Transmission Impairments

And finally, for all of you who need a heat pump this week, here is an indication of who you should call. At least, if you're in Arkansas.

Download: Three Arkansas Heat Pump Association Ads