Types of transcriptions and radio recordings
Recordings of shows from radio's "Golden Age" survive in many different forms. Having an original transcription disc of a show doesn't always mean that it has pristine sound quality.
Besides the condition of the disc, there's also the origin of the recording to think about. Here's an outline of the different types of radio transcriptions you'll hear on the blog and floating among old time radio collectors.
Reference or Master Recording
"Reference Recording" was a term used by NBC, but would generically apply to instantaneous master lacquer discs or master tapes of shows made directly at a network facility, recording studio, or radio station. The discs were created by the network or station as a record of the show and are usually of very high quality, with some approaching high fidelity range. Some were produced as a record of a broadcast for legal purposes; others may have been made as a master to press vinyl discs for syndication or for direct playback on the air for a program that was "transcribed".
- Dennis Day Show - January 8, 1947 (NBC Reference Recording)
- Night Beat - May 19, 1949 - Ted Carter Murder Case - Audition No. 1 (NBC Reference Recording)
Sponsor or Talent Disc
These were generated usually, but not always, as dubs from a reference recording of a show. Some are 16" lacquers, while others might be a series of 12" lacquers dubbed at 78 rpm so they could be played on home audio equipment. I've also found a few that were 16" vinyl discs especially pressed for a sponsor. The quality can be quite good, but they might have been subject to more "shuffling around" and damage over time.
- Your Home Front Reporter - Pgm 1 - May 10, 1943 (Vinyl discs pressed for a sponsor)
- Americans at Work - Sept. 29, 1942, WCFL, Chicago (Set of 78 rpm lacquers made for talent)
Syndication and "Extension Spotting" Discs
These are usually pressed on vinyl or shellac from a master disc made in the studio. Again, the quality can be quite good, but since they were used for broadcast and passed from station to station, they condition can vary greatly. Some were used for syndication of shows while others were network shows that were pressed on vinyl for broadcast on additional stations not on the originating network. Many were pressed by RCA Victor and Columbia.
- Adventures of Dick Cole - Pgm 24, circa 1946 (Red vinyl syndication discs, possibly pressed by Decca)
- Jungle Jim - Pgm 13 - January 25, 1936 (Vinyl syndication discs, pressed by RCA)
- The Two Daffodils, Pgm 2080 (Shellac syndication disc, pressed by Columbia)
- Ports of Call - Pgm 33, New Zealand (Shellac blue syndication disc, pressed by Columbia)
- Nonsense and Melody - Pgm 16 (Shellac syndication disc)
- Lum N’ Abner, Accidentally Yours - July, 1947 (Vinyl syndication disc, pressed by RCA)
- Hoosier Hot Shots Alka-Seltzer Show - Pgm 51 (Vinyl extension spotting disc, pressed by RCA)
Lacquers of network shows turn up that were recorded by an individual station from the actual network line feeding the station. This was done, literally, as a "line check" in some cases, but more often so that the station could broadcast the show at a different time. I've run into several line check lacquers that date from summer months when Daylight Savings Time was in effect.
Line checks can vary. The networks were feed to stations through high-quality telephone lines and there may be reduced frequency range or odd an odd "buzz" or "whine" on the line, depending on where the station was in the chain.
- Joyce Jordan MD – July 3, 1947 (lacquer line check from unknown NBC station)
- Kraft Music Hall - July 3, 1947 (lacquer line check from unknown NBC station)
These lacquers or tapes were literally dubbed "off the air" and show what the show would have sounded like to a typical listener. In this case, you're getting any problems with the network line in addition to problems introduced by the radio station, transmitter, and receiving conditions. They can also include local IDs and commercials. The recordings were sometimes produced for talent involved in the shows by independent companies or for advertisers or the network as a check on how shows were being run on the network. Some shows were recorded by listeners on home disc, wire, or tape equipment.
- Bing Crosby Show - March 12, 1953 (lacquer air check of KCBS, San Francisco)
- Pick and Pat - August 8, 1938 (lacquer air check of WEAF, New York)
- Smile-A-While, Aug 3, 1951 (wire recording air check of WLS, Chicago)
Armed Forces Radio Discs
The Armed Forces Radio Network wasn't a "network" in the traditional sense. Set up to serve military personnel during World War II, it couldn't use telephone lines to connect stations. Instead, AFRS had access to network lines where they made their own recordings of shows or obtained original discs or tapes directly from the networks. Then, they edited out commercials and current events references by dubbing them to another master disc or tape. The shows were pressed on vinyl and the transcription discs sent out to AFRS stations, ships and other venues.
AFRS versions of shows, which are sometimes the only surviving copies of some individual programs, can vary a great deal in quality. Many are dubs of original line checks, since the shows had to be edited, and can sometimes sound tinny or muddled, depending on how the equipment was set up and the quality of the network line. In addition, the discs were often pressed on cheaper grades of thin vinyl and have been tossed around over the years, showing a great deal of surface noise.
On occasion, a rehearsal recording of a network show will turn up on an AFRS disc, such as the "Rocky Jordan" example below.