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WHB - Voices from the Air - 1925

March 21st, 2010

Here's a little mystery disc I'm posting to the blog in the hope that someone can give us an idea of what we're listening to.  I recently won the disc in an auction and the seller didn't offer any further information about it or its origins.

The disc is a 10" 78 rpm one-sided lacquer with a label from WHB Kansas City.  Typed on the label is "Voices from the Air "Re Recorded" - 1925".

transcription label

The record, which has rather poor sound quality, includes various announcers giving station ids and sign offs.  First, we hear Bill Hay, KFKX of Hastings, Nebraska; someone from WSB, owned by the Atlanta-Journal; WBAP, the Fort-Worth Star Telegram; and finally WHB, Kansas City.  In the WHB id, they mention they're broadcasting from the "convention hall during the electrical and radio show" and  that the regular programs of WHB and WDAF were originating from the convention that week, along with some information on tomorrow's program.

Is this a genuine aircheck from a special broadcast in 1925, perhaps where there was a special multi-station hookup put in place?  Is it a recording not recorded from the air, but from the convention, where announcers were giving the crowd and listeners on WHB an idea of what their station ids sounded like at the time?  Or is it something else?

If this is a genuine aircheck or a record from an early radio convention, it's certainly a unique bit of radio history.  Elizabeth McLeod has a fascinating set of pages on "Documenting Early Radio", noting very few surviving airchecks or recordings of programs from that era.  Most were experimental recordings of special events or tests done by Western Electric and Victor.

I'm guessing this could be a dub, perhaps made in the 40s, from an original cylinder or disc recording made off the air or at the convention.  Remote or off-air recording was cumbersome, but possible, in the 1920s; the material could have been captured on a home cylinder recording device or perhaps some equipment that was brought in specifically for the convention.

Note the distance and primitive sound of the recording, which seems to have the ambiance of an event in a large hall, and how the information seems to be very specific to the event.  Since the dub was found on an original WHB lacquer, it would make sense that the original recording was owned by the station or someone associated with the station, and would have had some significance to the station's history.  And that does sound like Bill Hay.  So, I think it's likely a genuine 20s era recording of the convention or broadcast and not a later recreation.

I've done digging at the Google News archives, which includes items from the New York Times and ProQuest, but haven't found any article specifically mentioning a "radio and electrical show" from 1925 in Kansas.  There were several exhibitions in different cities - Hartford in 1924 and Chicago and New York in different years in the 1920s.  I did find some references to KFKX serving mid-West listeners with farm reports; it was moved to Chicago in 1927.  Some simple networks and experiments with remote broadcasts were heard at the time, particularly the Democratic Convention and National Defense Day broadcasts in 1924 and the Cooledge inauguration in early 1925.

I also found this curious little excerpt at archive.org of "The Rape of Radio", a book published in 1941 by Robert West, Director of the Radio Arts Guild of America:

"Bill Hay, the perennial Amos 'n' Andy announcer, once taught piano and ran a radio store. For two years he read and announced his own program, with potato sacks for sound-proofing and open windows to admit the air on the now extinct KFKX of Hastings, Nebraska."

Potato sacks for sound-proofing?  That certainly sounds like early radio.  Or a dot-com start-up company.

So what do you think about the recording?  Please feel free to leave your comments with your own ideas and any info you might run into.

update, 03.21.2010

Elizabeth McLeod quickly wrote in on the disc, as she's familiar with it.

The original is a New Flexo disc, a flexible celluliod record from the 1920s that was used for advertising.

"It's a dub of a souvenir recording made at the trade show -- all of those announcers were there in person and took their turns recreating their traditional station IDs. It was a gathering of mostly Southern and Western broadcasters of the sort that was very common in the mid-twenties. I don't have a specific date, but I imagine you'd find it mentioned in Radio Digest that summer.

"The WSB announcer is Lamdin Kay, who was one of the most famous radio personalities in the country at the time, and the first to use chimes as a station id signal. The Texas station is WBAP in Fort Worth.

"Bill Hay indeed started his radio career at KFKX, which was in the same building as the piano company where he'd worked as a salesman."

Thanks Elizabeth!

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