War of the Worlds - An Update on the Paul Stewart lacquer set

October 27, 2013

Note:  The mp3 attached to this post is the same transfer I put up earlier in the summer; it is included here as a convenience.


At the end of July, I posted a lacquer 78 rpm lacquer set of the famous Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast of "War of the Worlds" on my blog.  I transferred the discs and posted the audio file thinking it was likely a "dub" - the fact that the disc set might be an original surviving master copy was just something I just couldn't believe.

Since my original post, I've dived into researching the background on the set, surviving copies of the broadcast, and have concluded this set is, indeed, a "live" master, probably ordered up by Mercury actor and associate producer Paul Stewart.

In this post, I'll share some details on my research into the set, highlighting what we know and don't know about how the show was recorded and preserved over the years.


Read the rest of this entry »

Listen Now:


War of the Worlds interview on KFJC-FM

October 27, 2013

If you are near Los Altos, California, tune in to KFJC-FM 89.7 on Wednesday, October 30th at 8:30 pm.  The station will be carrying a special on the 75th anniversary of "War of the Worlds" that includes an interview with me on my find of the "Paul Stewart" "War of the Worlds" lacquer set and collecting transcriptions.  Information on the anniversary special is here.  You can listen live to the broadcast on the KFJC stream.

Mercury Theatre on the Air - October 30, 1938 - alternative version

July 31, 2013

In this post, an alternative version of probably the most well-known broadcast of all time.

I recently picked up on ebay a six-disc, twelve-side lacquer recorded at 78 rpm of the Mercury Theatre broadcast of "The War of the Worlds".  The set is a dub, either from another 78 rpm set or from a 16" lacquer.

Although the set has some sound issues, it does include some very brief parts missing from all of the circulating copies.

Known copies of "War of the Worlds"

A bit of history is in order.  Several posts archived here sum up what we know and don't know about the provenance of existing copies of the program.  CBS, apparently, has an original lacquer of the show - it's unclear if they had transcription recording capabilities "in house" or if it was done "off-site" during the original broadcast.  Michael Biel, in one of the archived posts, talked with an engineer who said he recorded the original discs at CBS when he was new in his job there and was ordered to "smuggle them out" of the studio.

After the broadcast, there are indications that some copies were made for a Congressional committee and/or the FCC, but we don't know the format (16" or 12") or particulars of what discs were made and what happened to them.

We know that another 16" unlabeled lacquer surfaced at an auction in 2001 from the estate of old time radio collector Ralph Murchow.  This green label Presto disc set was not authenticated, but sold for $14,000.  It's not clear where the disc originated - it might have been one of the Congressional committee/FCC copies, another copy made at a local station or a dub made from CBS's archive copy.  The type of Presto lacquer was commonly used in 1938, so it could have originated from the period of the original broadcast.  (You can see more info on Presto's early years here.)

The Library of Congress has a set of four 16" lacquers of the War of the Worlds broadcast.  When they were obtained by LOC and the origin of the set isn't clear.  (Was it a dub from the CBS disc or another copy made for LOC?  One of the FCC or Congressional committee copies?)  LOC made a mono preservation tape master of the set at 7 1/2 ips in 1968.

By coincidence, about the same time, a reel to reel mono tape copy emerged among collectors of the broadcast.  Was it the CBS archive master, the Murchow green label Presto set, or another undocumented version?

Regardless, the copies of "War of the Worlds" circulating now all came from that same tape that surfaced in the late 60s, perhaps a dub of the Library of Congress tape.  The most common lp releases of this recording were on the Mannheim-Fox and Evolution labels, but different versions, some slightly edited from that version, appeared on other lp releases and with varying sound quality.  The cds in circulation, as well as the mp3 versions at archive.org and other Old Time Radio sites, originated from the lps of this tape that were released in the 1970s.  The various lp and cd releases of the tape also have noise gates or other analogue or digital tricks to minimize the surface noise of the original tape.

Background on this set

In this post is a new dub made direct from the 78 rpm 12-sided set that I recently obtained.

According to the seller, it came from a book dealer specializing in rare books and celebrity autographs in the City of Orange, about twenty minutes from Los Angeles.  The set originated in the estate of Jimmy Star, a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and "Film Daily", an industry magazine.

The set has the name "Paul Stewart" written on the cardboard container for the set.  Stewart was one of the Mercury actors who appeared on "War of the Worlds".  He was later a founding member of AFTRA and well respected "behind the scenes" in the Hollywood film community, working in films and television well into the 1980s.

Did Stewart have the set made for reporter Jimmy Star for some reason, perhaps as a gift, a souvenir, or for some story he was working on?

There's no documentation with the set to be sure.  Based on the sound quality, it sounds as if it came either direct from the 16" masters or a really well-done dub of one.

The discs themselves all have white paper labels just like the picture above.  One was a little loose and I peeled it back - the discs are aluminum based and are green label Presto brand.  The set came in Audiodisc "glass base" generic sleeves - the discs themselves could date from near the time of the original broadcast or after WWII.  The disc type - Presto green label - and the way they were cut leads me to think they were done in a professional facility.

The original recording that is the basis for the set appears to be taken directly from the CBS studio or a line from the studio - there's no local station ids, the program is complete, and I don't hear "line noise" indicating it was a "line check" from a local station.  The surface noise is different from the 60s era copy circulating now - perhaps this copy and the 60s tape came from the same disc, dubbed to 78 rpm before it became damaged, or perhaps they came from different copies.

Sound quality and extra material on this set

It's unfortunate that the sound quality of this disc set varies so much on each side, with bright clear sound at the beginning of each of the twelve sides and more muffled sound as the inner groove is reached at the end of the sides. The set also suffers from palmitic acid leaching - a white powder that comes out of the lacquer coating and causes surface noise.  Some parts sound better than the circulating copy; some sound worse.

Despite the varying sound quality, the set is the most complete version of "War of the Worlds" available and includes some brief segments not in the circulating copies.

  • At the 30 minute mark, there's a short extra bit at the part where the announcer says "One moment please ladies and gentlemen … We've run special wires…."  This previously unheard part is some "behind the mic" fumbling by the announcer with another cast member - on circulating copies, this segment got lost in a side change.

For some time, we've been puzzled by a couple of missing lines from the existing recording. 

  • About 40 minutes into the piece where Welles as Professor Pierson says "I look down at my blackened hand…"  In the version that exists, part of the line is missing and sounds like Welles might have not said some of the lines in the published version of the script.  With the missing lines in this new copy, it sounds like the original master used for the circulating copies has a "skip" that was disguised with a bit of editing.
  • At 57:25, there's also a line in the original script not heard on the circulating recordings where Welles says "Strange to see from my window the University spires dim and blue through an April haze."  This might have been another "skip" in the master used for the circulating copies.
  • This new version also includes the original full-length CBS station break, which runs about 15 seconds.  In circulating versions, the silence for the original station break was edited out.

There might be other short bits not in the circulating version that I missed.

Wrapping up

If you have any thoughts on the possible origins of the disc set or other bits of the show you've never heard before, let me know in the comments.

Our mp3 was dubbed direct from this undated 78 rpm, 12", 12-sided lacquer.  Slight scratch removal was applied to the original file and the "side joins" were edited as closely as possible to the original - each side change of the disc had overlapping sentences or phrases, so you may notice a side change in the middle of a sentence.

Note - This file may take a bit to download.  I've encoded it at a max 128 kps bit rate with the highest quality option.  It's just over 50 mb.

Update, 8/5

I added a link and some information on the LOC's lacquer set of "War of the Worlds".  I also talked with someone at the Pacific Pioneer Broadcaster's library - they suffered a fire a few years ago and the collection is in storage, so we're not able to see if the Welles copy located there was cut on green label Presto blanks and is similar to my set.  They're trying to see if someone might remember what the Welles set looked like or any particulars about it.

However, I did obtain a low-quality mp3 file that has circulated privately and _may_ have originated from the Welles set there.  It includes all the missing bits in my copy except one - at the 30 minute mark, the lines "One moment please ladies and gentlemen", the studio chatter, and some lines after that are omitted from that copy and sounds like they might have been lost due to a very noisy side change or some kind of disc damage.  That section of the Welles copy is missing more material than the commonly circulated copy.


Listen Now:


Curtis H. Springer for Acidine - Pgm 1

March 24, 2013

Curtis H. Springer was a unique American character.  The self-described "last of the old-time medicine men", Springer got his start working with Billy Sunday's evangelical outfit and, in the 1930s, toured around the country and gave lectures, presenting himself as a member of the "National Academy", the "Springer School of Humanism", the American College of Doctors and Surgeons and other organizations, asking for donations.

Curtis Springer - Pgm 1 - label

Working out of Chicago, Springer appeared on radio hawking various patent medicines.  He applied for airtime on WGN and the station contacted the American Medical Association to check out his credentials.  The AMA was appalled and produced a journal article on Springer, calling him the "King of Quacks".

In this post, we hear Program 1 of a series Springer appeared in hawking Acidine, "Nature's Normalizer for Acid Stomachs", for United Remedies.  It's one of five discs of the series I picked up in an auction a few months ago.  In the shows, Springer takes questions from listeners that mix a homespun philosophies about religion and healthful living with colorful stories about his own life and the people he's met in his travels.  In the first program of the series, Springer advises a listener about mortgaging their house to pay for their son's college education.  Springer, of course, comes down on the side of experience and drive, rather than a college education, to get ahead in life.  The commercial announcer is identified in program 4 as Hal Dean.

I've found a couple of listings for what I think is this program in "Radio Guide" and "Broadcasting" magazines from 1934, so that's the likely time frame they were originally heard.

Springer would go on to found the Zzyzx health spa in the Mojave Desert of California in 1944, continuing his syndicated radio programs.  In 1974, Federal authorities shut down Springer's operation, convicting him of squatting on Federal lands and making false claims about the health foods and remedies he sold.

Our program was transferred from an original single-sided translucent blue celluloid Brunswick transcription, matrix number 9149.  The disc was pressed by Flexo, which was producing various promotion and radio-related plastic and celluloid discs.  Unfortunately, the transcription, like many Flexo pressings has distorted over time, so it was a little difficult to play - you'll hear some noise and "swoosh" sounds from the aging plastic surface.

The show was previously lost and uncirculated.  I'll post the other discs I found from the series later - from what I can tell, these are the only surviving broadcasts by the "King of Quacks".

Listen Now:


WCBS “Skin” tape - Feb 12, 1955

March 24, 2013

Update - click "Read the rest of this entry" at the bottom of the blog post to see an important update on the origins of this unusual tape.

In this post, a bit of a mystery.

Some months ago, I got some reel to reel tapes that came from someone that was connected with WCBS in New York.  In a previous post, I uploaded a lengthy excerpt from the October 30, 1957 edition of the "Lanny Ross Show" that came from one of the tapes in the group.

WCBS tape box cover

WCBS tape box - back

This tape is a 7" Scotch reel recorded in full-track mono at 7.5 ips.  The box is labeled "Skin/LB (piano) - Feb 12 55" on the back.

There's a slip of WCBS memo paper that was in the tape box with a handwritten list of songs.  I can't read the handwriting very well, but it looks like this.  (You can download a scan of the paper here.)

Act I -The Colder Day of the Year -Telegram! -The Whole Crooked Family -It's Cold

Act II -The Ancient Ordering Mermaids (?) -? (looks like "Kedel") -Sabrina -Evening (?) Senior Years -Two of Every Kid (Kind?)

Act III -Poor Before We Know It -Sweet Hong (?) -Hour of the Night/Magic -The Coldest Day/Frak (? - "Finale"?)

Also in the tape box was a standard postcard with the notation "Copy to SS" and someone's signature.  (Download a scan here.)

The tape itself contains different songs played on piano.  There's no announcements or other audio on the tape.  The mp3 in the post is the first song from the tape, or at least part of it - the tape is starting to curl and warp on the outer edges and doesn't have a leader at the beginning.  The reel seems to start in the middle of one of the songs.

I'm not sure if this is connected with some type of special show that was done for WCBS or maybe for CBS Television.  I did some searching on JJ's Radio Logs for 1955, Goldin's radio show database, and on Billboard magazine at Google Books, but didn't turn up any radio or tv show with "Skin" in the title.

Anyone know what this is?

Our mp3 was dubbed direct from a 7" full-track mono Scotch reel to reel tape running at 7.5 ips.

Read the rest of this entry »

Listen Now:


Resettlement Administration - Pgm 3

March 24, 2013

During the New Deal era, the Roosevelt administration used the new medium of radio to get the word out about new programs through syndicated shows.  Some, like programs featuring WPA musicians, was more subtle in their advertising approach.  Others were more direct in explaining New Deal programs to the public.

Resettlement Administration transcription label

Program 3 in the "Resettlement Administration" series presents a drama about the plight of tenant farmers, taking the listener through the development of tenant farming after slavery was abolished in the South after the Civil War, how tenant farmers wound up in perpetual debt and poverty, and how the Resettlement Administration could help them.

Conservatives, of course, were outraged at this type of radio "propaganda" - this is the type of program that the National Industrial Council (aka the National Association of Manufacturers) was combatting when they developed the radio serial "American Family Robinson".

What's curious about this particular show is that it features an Old Time Radio and classic Hollywood film voice you might recognize - Joseph Cotten.  The Resettlement Administration was only active in 1935-36, so the show probably from those years  and Cotten, at this point in his career, was appearing on-stage in New York with the Federal Theatre Project.  This is one of the earliest recording of Joseph Cotten on the air - the Goldin database lists a November 14, 1936 "Columbia Workshop" production of "Hamlet" with Cotten and he doesn't pop up on radio again until a September 1938 episode of CBS's "Mercury Theater".  Welles and others involved in the Federal Theatre Project, of course, picked up odd jobs on radio, most famously with Orson Welles appearing in "The Shadow" and "The March of Time".

The show was transferred from an original one-sided shellac Radio and Film Methods Corporation transcription, matrix number 288-A.  The label notes "Dyer Process Recording", "Use Filmmatic Needles" and address of company as 101 Park Avenue, New York City, CAledonia 5-7530-1.  The company probably also produced 16" transcription discs for use with filmstrips.  The show appears to be previously lost.

Listen Now:


Eno Crime Clues - March 28, 1934 - Pt 1

March 24, 2013

Note:  This program contains racial stereotyping themes that may be offensive to some listeners.

"Eno Crime Clues" is a rare 1930s radio series heard on the NBC Blue Network from 1933 to 1936.  The program had different incarnations, heard on Columbia in the early 1930s and later on Mutual as "Crime Clues", with the series connected to detective and mystery novels put out by publishers like Doubleday.

Emo Crime Clues label

Goldin only lists eight programs existing in the Blue Network series, so this is a nice find.  What we have in this post is part 1 of the broadcast of March 28, 1934, Episode 2 of the story "The Talking Skull", a murder mystery that takes place on an island, with the detective grilling the assembled group of suspects to come to a solution to the crime.  The program is sponsored by Emo Effervescent Salts.

Each story was broadcast in two half-hour installments, so we're hearing only 15 minutes of the second half of the story.  Even without the solution to the mystery, it's a nice example of this early type of radio drama.

The show was transferred from an original one-sided Victrolac transcription pressed by RCA, matrix number 82259-1.  The advertising agency is N.W. Ayer and Son, New York.

This show appears to be previously lost.  Anyone have the other disc containing the other half of the show in their attic?

Listen Now:


Sally in Hollywoodland - Audition

March 24, 2013

Here's an unusual bit of radio and Hollywood history, an audition for a children's radio series based on popular animated cartoons.

Sally in Hollywoodland - Audition label

"Sally in Hollywoodland" was recorded June 3, 1947, and is a half-hour kid's show based on the Walter Lantz cartoons, featuring Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda and the gang.  The audition includes announcements on how the show could be sold to potential sponsors.

I've done quite a bit of searching on this one, but haven't turned up anything on the origins of the audition or information on the company that produced it.  The show didn't appear to actually go into production and syndication.

The program was transferred from an original 6000 Sunset Radio Center (Hollywood) vinyl transcription disc, matrix numbers SUN-535A and SUN-536B.

If anyone has some more info on this one, I'd appreciated hearing from you!

Listen Now:


Rhapsody in Rhythm - Pgm 1

March 24, 2013

In this post, "Rhapsody in Rhythm", program 1, featuring Charles W. Hamp and the Rhythm Rascals.  One of several programs syndicated by Transco in the 1930s, many featuring jazz performers.  The songs include "I Have Built a Dream House", "Rhythm Saved the World" and "Chinatown My Chinatown".

Rhapsody in Rhythm - Pgm 1 label

Hamp played piano and saxophone and worked in Los Angeles radio in the late 1920s.  He recorded for Columbia Records and recorded this series for Transco in 1936-37, crooning and offering up "hot jazz" arrangements of popular tunes.

The show was transferred direct from a blue laminated Radio Transcription Company (Transco) transcription, matrix number A-2568.

Listen Now:


Posting a few shows every few weeks - app availability

March 24, 2013

I'm still pretty busy with work and family, but I'll be trying to post some news shows every few weeks, particularly more unusual items that are rare or previously lost.

I've also activated a new feature provided by Podbean - if you go to http://randsesotericotr.podbean.com/mobile/ with your mobile device, such as an iPhone or iPad, you can see the blog in a special format.  There's also an option on this link to add it to your device as an app.

Thanks for reading and listening!