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WCBS “Skin” tape - Feb 12, 1955

March 24th, 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.

Update, 01 April 2013

My apologies to the folks who commented and got all excited about this "find" on forums and email lists, but Leonard Bernstein's "Skin of Our Teeth" remains lost.

I hate to say it but … "April Fools"!

I'd like to congratulate my co-conspirators in the gag.

My friend Sean Martin, cartoonist, 3d artist and Broadway aficionado, suggested the idea.  I worked with him on the type of tape box and other elements that might be convincing for the period.  He mocked up all the documents and the tape box in Photoshop.  (He did a really nice job on the WCBS logo on the memo pad, by the way.  He had to recreate that and make it appear to be genuinely printed on an old scrap of aged paper.  And, yes, the paper was aged in Photoshop.)

A special hat-tip goes to Gil Fray, a long-time member of Greensboro's free improv jazz group the F-Art Ensemble, and a composer and accompanist for silent films, dance and theater.  He composed the piece you heard in the mp3.  If you thought the piece was vaguely reminiscent of the theme from "The Simpsons", you're right - this was a bit of a joke on Gil's part to point out the influence of Bernstein on Danny Elfman and the influence on both of them by Bartok.  Gil modeled the melody on Barbara Cooke's performance of  "Glitter and Be Gay" in "Candide", finishing up its run at the time the tape would have made.

If you listen closely and you're a pianist, you might have heard something that gave the gag away - the final chord of the piece, supposedly played in a studio by Leonard Bernstein, cannot be played with just two hands.

What you're hearing was played by a computer - not a human being.

Gil composed and output the piece using Notion, a musical notation software used for performance and recording.  Although Notion uses real piano samples, the background was dead quiet.  So, to give the illusion of a performance in a radio studio, I recorded background room noise and mixed that into the recording.  Then, I recorded that on to  vintage 50's era reel to reel tape, unspooled it, walked all over it, and digitized the mp3 from that.  I added a bit of equalization futzing to muddy it up a little more.

We hope you enjoyed our little exercise in historic fabrication.

Happy April Fools Day!


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