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Guest Star - Pgm 12

August 19th, 2010

Finally this week, a hard to find early entry in the long running, star-studded Treasury Department public service series, "Guest Star". Program 12 in the series features Bob Hope and Bing Crosby along with host Kenny Delmar and Denes Agay and the Savings Bond Orchestra and Chorus.  Agay and the Orchestra kick off the show with "After You've Gone".  In the Hope and Crosby segment, the guys crack jokes about each other and savings bonds while Hope plugs his new movie, "My Favorite Brunette".  The side is dated April 10, 1947 in the matrix, so I'm assuming that's the date the master for the show was recorded.

transcription label

Episodes of "Guest Star" and programs featuring Hope or Crosby aren't unusual, but there's one thing about this show that makes it distinctive - it's an early (and likely the most atrocious) example I've run into of a canned laugh track.  If you listen closely, it's obvious that Hope and Crosby segment was recorded separately and some unseen engineer has layered in laughs and often inappropriate audience reaction to Hope and Crosby's banter.

I posted about the show's laugh track to the OTR mailing list.  Scholar Michael Biel sent in a helpful response, conjecturing the laugh track might be the work of Jack Mullin.  Mullin, of course, worked with Crosby to record his network radio show on a German tape machine and tape stock that Mullen brought back from Europe after the War.  Mullin says he saved snippets of laughs and audience reaction to "sweeten" Bing's show, "creating" the laugh track.

But I'm not sure this is Mullin's handiwork.  The show dates from April 1947 and Biel, in an earlier mailing list message archived on this site, noted that Bing's show on ABC was recorded and edited on laquers at this time - it was only mastered on tape starting October 7, 1947.  According to Wikipedia's article on Mullin, Bing saw a demonstration of the tape machines for the first time in June 1947, a couple of months after this "Guest Star" episode was mastered.

So, what do you think?  Is this an early attempt by Jack Mullin to show off what could be done with tape?  Or is it some anonymous radio engineer with some lacquers of laughs and audience twitters on a couple of turntables?  Perhaps if Bing heard this bad laugh track on the final version of this "Guest Star" episode, it might have made him even more excited about the possibilities of Mullin's tape recorder when he saw it a couple of months later.

The use of prerecorded laughs in radio isn't as well documented, but this show seems like an early and very primitive attempt at giving an impression of a "live" audience - I still wonder if it might be the earliest surviving example.   Certainly, some Armed Forces Radio programs had applause inserted, particularly when they were covering an edited commercial segment or were making a transition in the sides of the show.  But I'm hard pressed to think of an example where audience reaction for a whole segment is being simulated.  It's certainly worth more research on this show and other resources by someone to see how early use of canned laughs developed on radio before it became such an annoying presence on television sitcoms.

The program was transferred from an original vinyl Treasury Department transcription, matrix number ND7-MM-5430-1C.

Thanks to blog listener George Brandon for donating this intriguing disc to my collection!

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  • Mark

    Wow. That is one ATROCIOUS laughter track.

    Aug 21, 2010 at 11:20 am
  • Mark

    I guess I was one of the lucky few who got to hear this show before it was removed from the archives.

    It’s a shame really because it is historically an important file (it’s a pretty dull episode) because of the dopey laughter track.

    Aug 22, 2010 at 7:24 am
  • kenjn60

    I feel that no one has “claims” on these old shows except the public who likes to hear them. That’s who they were produced for! Sorrry you had to take off some of your postings, and many thanks for all you have shared!

    Aug 22, 2010 at 7:27 am
  • randsesotericotr

    Keep in mind that I didn’t get a takedown notice from RS or Amari’s company and was doing this as a precautionary measure because of what’s been happening elsewhere on the web.

    There’s about fifty shows on the whole blog that I’ve taken down. Depending on how things play out and when more information’s available, I may put some of them back or I may severely limit what I post. If it gets to be too much of a hassle, I may have to just end the blog. - rand

    Aug 22, 2010 at 9:08 am
  • Mark

    Don’t worry rand. If the Radio Spirits guys decided they wanted you to stop hosting specific files they think they have the rights to, they would simply send you a DCMA notice and you would remove them.

    You won’t wake up one day and find yourself being sued.

    So really, you have deleted them now as a precaution against a formal request from Radio Spirits, asking you to delete them.

    No one has been sued, at Archive.org, OTRR etc. Just formal requests to remove files.

    Aug 22, 2010 at 9:35 am
  • George

    Sorry this all happened, Rand. I fully appreciate the concept of copyrights and all that, but it’s ridiculous that a blogger like you has to even worry about this sort of thing. Given that you are providing these shows directly from discs IN YOUR OWN COLLECTION instead of copying them from a Radio Spirits cd, it doesn’t seem right that you should have to worry about that sort of nonsense.

    Besides, if it wasn’t for people like you, most of these shows would never be heard anywhere.

    Aug 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm