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Author Topic: Old live radio performance technology
Frank Cox
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 - posted 11-05-2017 06:55 PM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'm just now reading a book that was written in 1935 and the characters are playing in a band that "catches a wire at a nitery."

This means that they have a contract to do live radio broadcasts from a nightclub. And I remember seeing or reading about stuff like that before: "Live at the Kit Kat Club, here's Joe Blow and his orchestra!".

My question is, how did they get the live performance back to the radio station? Telephone hookup? Even with the relatively low standards for sound reproduction of that time, that seems pretty limited.

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Harold Hallikainen
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 - posted 11-05-2017 07:29 PM      Profile for Harold Hallikainen   Author's Homepage   Email Harold Hallikainen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Yes, telephone lines. A radio station would order a dedicated copper pair from the program origination source to the studio. It often went through a central office since that's where all the cables in town come together. Often a dedicated "unloaded" (no loading coils and no bridge taps) pair for the whole path is all that's required. An equalizer at the studio end loads the line more for low frequencies than highs to equalize the frequency response (without equalization, there's quite a bit of high frequency attenuation). If the link is long, it may be broken into segments with equalization and amplification at the end of each segment.

In the 1930s, the technology was pretty well established. NBC did the first coast to coast radio broadcast using telephone lines in 1927.

Harold
(more broadcast history at http://bh.hallikainen.org )

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Frank Cox
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Interesting.

Did they just throw a mike in front of the band and call it good enough, or were they using multiple microphones and a mixer board?

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Harold Hallikainen
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I don't really know about that. I suspect a lot of stuff was single microphone, though.

Harold

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Frank Cox
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A lot of old films and photos show a gang surrounding a single microphone so you're probably right about that.

Thanks for the information, Harold. Old tech like this is interesting stuff.

When trying to do my own research about this I read that the standard RCA microphone had two live sides and two dead ones, so people making a recording or broadcast (like a radio play) could face each other while performing. Another interesting little fact, as well.

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Sam D. Chavez
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Take a look at American Epic, episode 8 for a look at original generation single mic recording using a weight driven recording lathe. Some of this apparatus shown came through one of my warehouse partners stock. Nick Berg is the recording engineer and producer of this program.

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Leo Enticknap
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 - posted 11-06-2017 10:43 AM      Profile for Leo Enticknap   Author's Homepage   Email Leo Enticknap   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
An often told story in British broadcasting folklore is that when the Crystal Palace in South London burned down in 1936, a very young Richard Dimbleby was sent by the BBC to report on it. A recording crew was not available, so he went to a public call box close by, engineers back at the studio jerry rigged a way of patching the connection at the other end straight to air, and his commentary on the fire thus became the UK's first live outside broadcast. Sadly, they could not figure out a way of duplicating the feed to a disc cutter (at least, not until after the subject of the broadcast had been reduced to a pile of ashes), and so no recording was made.

On the subject of weird and wacky stillborn technologies, about a decade ago I was given a demonstration of a privately owned and restored Philips-Miller recorder. It literally engraved an optical audio trace out of black film emulsion, which was then played back using a conventional photocell, of the sort used in cinema projectors.

The owner had hooked it to a modern Cambridge Audio consumer integrated amplifier and budget hi-fi speakers (can't remember which model) - something with much more range than the tube amps and speakers in use at the time. The audio was astonishing: subjectively speaking, just as good as a late '50s mono LP, and probably more detailed in the high end. Apparently the BBC used them experimentally, along with the Blattnerphone, in the 1930s, but went back to using disc recording until EMI got their hands on captured Nazi magnetic recording technology in the late '40s (Ampex in the US did at around the same time), and launched the BTR series of tape recorders.

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Kenneth Wuepper
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Reginald Webb, a theatre organ teacher in Detroit Michigan played his home pipe organ for accompaniment of the radio program that featured canaries chirping to the music. This was over WJR, a clear channel AM radio station. The canaries were in an aviary and their chirping was sent by copper to the WJR studio in the Fisher Building downtown. The organ was sent by copper to the Studio as well. The two were mixed at that point and sent on the air.

Neither the birds nor the organist heard each other, only the listeners heard the "mix" at home.

The organ pickup was a little tube amplifier that took one microphone output and sent it over the 600 Ohm telco line.

Reg often told of the time he began his music only to have the phone begin ringing. He played loudly to cover up the ring so it would not be heard on the air. It rang throughout the entire broadcast.

After the time of the program was over he went to the phone and answered it angrily. The engineer from the station was calling to tell him that he forgot to turn on the amplifier. They had substituted some recorded music "for the birds".

KEN

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Mike Blakesley
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I've always been a Jack Benny fan and have collected a lot of his radio shows. I know they did their shows in front of a live audience, but I assume, since it was radio, that they didn't do anything in terms of scenery, costumes etc. I've seen picture of Jack and other members of his cast just standing at a microphone reading lines out of a script. It's hard to imagine people wanting to go to a theater to see a show done like that, but I suppose seeing the celebrities plus the fascination of being present at a live broadcast was enough to draw a big crowd of fans.

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Frank Cox
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The ubiquity and instant availability of recorded music today certainly creates a different sort of musical culture than what existed some years ago, before recordings were commonly available.

As stated above, the book that I was reading is a contemporary novel written in 1935. At one point the characters attend a posh "penthouse party" where the guests are dancing foxtrots and waltzes to music that's playing on the radio.

As you can see, I found the musical aspects of the story very striking, though the novel is actually an early tough-guy noir, i.e "booze, babes and bullets".

Some of the story takes place in and around Chicago nightclubs. At that time a live band was apparently the best option for music in your establishment, and a few years before that it would have been the only option. And if you wanted to have music in your home you would have had to play it yourself.

I have read that sheet music sales in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were driven by sales of cheap pianos, and sheet music was more-or-less the equivalent of the 45 rpm singles that were being sold when I was a teenager, i.e this is what you bought when you wanted to obtain music.

In short, printed sheet music was a huge industry at one time, which was replaced by sales of recorded singles and LP records, followed by about twenty years of CD's, replaced by digital music sales (and mp3 piracy) and today the music scene seems be largely driven by streaming audio channels and subscription sales to the same.

I'm sure that the changeover from live to recorded music in commercial establishments had a big effect on the labour market for musicians, as well. A mediocre musician who could have made a living out of being in a backing band or an average torch signer would suddenly find him or herself out of work.

There's probably a dissertation in there for a musical history student. [Smile]

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Alexandre Pereira
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Radioland Murders is a great film that relives - or at least re-invents the magic of live radio broadcasts...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Yqj62w1Bao

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Leo Enticknap
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quote: Frank Cox
I have read that sheet music sales in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were driven by sales of cheap pianos, and sheet music was more-or-less the equivalent of the 45 rpm singles that were being sold when I was a teenager, i.e this is what you bought when you wanted to obtain music.
Correct, and you can also add the player piano into that mix. However, actually playing the piano was a far more widely taught skill before the advent of recorded and broadcast music than it is now, and how playable a given song or piece was for someone who only played the piano as a hobby (not for a living), was a major determinant in how commercially successful it was.

If you read biographies of Scott Joplin, an interesting (to me, at any rate) aspect of his career is the constant battles he had with his publisher, because a lot of his rags were difficult enough that only a professional musician could really play them. One of the reasons The Entertainer became such a huge hit was because an amateur pianist of average ability can easily handle it (by the same token, some Beethoven sonatas, e.g. #7, can be played by someone like me, because they were commissioned for average ability amateur pianists. But the Hammerklavier? Nah, haven't got a spare lifetime to practice that one!). But a lot of his other stuff (The Cascades and The Country Club come to mind) simply isn't.

I'm not sure that stride jazz would ever have become popular if it hadn't coincided with recorded sound growing into a widespread consumer technology. Listen to pianists like James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, and what you're hearing is virtuoso enough that no way in hell could even most professional pianists do that, let alone an amateur. Before recording and broadcasting, music had to be playable and singable by people who, afterwards, just listened to it.

quote: Kenneth Wuepper
Reginald Webb, a theatre organ teacher...
Was being called Reginald an unofficial job requirement of being a movie theater organist in the 1930s? Reginald Dixon was arguably Britain's best known, and one of very few to become a broadcasting star.

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Kenneth Wuepper
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Leo,

The name is where the similarity ended.

KEN

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Frank Angel
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For awhile in the early 70s, a station here in NYC, WMGM (yes, at one time, the studio also owned a radio station in a top 40 market in NYC) produced a weekly, live broadcast show that mimicked the live drama shows of the late 40s and early 50s -- actors reading scripts accompanied by mood music and sound effects. The were great entertainment -- now we have the same kind of thing with audio books.

I remember listen to some of these and from my recollection, they had very high production values, I assume, in part, because they had a wealth of talent to call upon as well as scripts that maybe didn't make it to the screen but could be re-purposed for the radio and unlike the earlier radio dramas and soap operas that used an organ as the music source (why organ and not a piano or a small ensemble?), they also had stock music as well as the ability to pre-record sound effects probably the parent studio's foley know-how came in pretty handy.

We first produced a live radio program, "Brooklyn Center Presents" that at first was sent to the studio on two copper-to-copper lines (or "dry circuits") that were nothing more than cables that went from point to point thru the telephone company switching stations but bi-passed all electronics and switches. They basically were giving us a run of audio cable from the source output (our mixer) to the terminal point (the station's input). Both sides had the big eq boxes -- probably the ones Harold mentioned -- that work something close to magic, at least in my mind, given the distance from us to the studio (Brooklyn to Manhattan); I expected the end result was going to mangled by dirty ground noise, hum, hi freq degradation and stereo crosstalk. But we did three live broadcasts this way, then finally just went recording everything and shipping the programs on R2R 1/4in tape -- much more control, but not as much of the exhilaration of doing it live.

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Frank Cox
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quote: Leo Enticknap
Before recording and broadcasting, music had to be playable and singable
... and some of that sheet music is amazingly expensive. I just saw a waltz dated 1904 with a pre-printed price on it of One Dollar. For just one single waltz. And an 1893 "Fantasie" for 75 cents. Leapin' lizards! That's about $20 to $25 in today's money.

Today a whole brand new book of sheet music containing 12 or 20 pieces might cost that much. And the market is far smaller now (or at least so I assume) though I suppose the actual cost of printing and binding is cheaper today than it was back then.

Some of the million-plus selling sheet music (After the Ball, etc.) must have made a fortune for someone. Even some of the smaller stuff, if it was sold at anything close to list price, would have raked it in pretty good.

I wonder if the composers actually saw much of that or if the publishers managed to insert themselves into the trough in their stead.

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